By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Senators seek to prohibit closed-door meetings
Republican senators have introduced a bill that would prohibit closed-door meetings between the governor and members of the Guam legislature.
The legislation, filed by. Sens. James Moylan, Chris Duenas and Tony Ada, was prompted by a meeting held May 11 between the governor and senators, in which they discussed a spending plan for Guam's allocation from the American Rescue Plan.
Last week, the Vigilance Committee gave the legislature a notice of violation of the Open Government Law
"Whether or not a decision was made, the public will never know," Vigilance Committee president Lee Webber said in a letter to Speaker Therese Terlaje. "Based on the governor’s invitation and the multiple statements in the media, it is evidently clear that the intent of the informal assemblage with members of the 36th Guam Legislature and the governor was to deliberate public business, specifically, the ‘plans for expenditure of the American Rescue Plan funds.'"
Whether intentional or not, Webber said, the May 11 "informal assemblage" trampled on the Open Government Law, which was circumvented by members of the 36th Guam Legislature.
" It is this same spirit and declaration that carries this notice of violation. The people of Guam, in delegating their authority, do not give you and the senators of the 36th Guam Legislature the right to decide what is good for them to know and what is not good for them to know," Webber said. "The people of Guam demand to be informed and assert their right over the government they have created."
Webber warned that the discussions of public business in an illegal meeting has the potential to taint any legislation that could be traced back to the illegal meeting.
Webber has requested Terlaje to provide his group all public documents, "which would show your plan to remediate the harm that this illegal meeting may have caused."
The senator, however, said Guam law currently allows a closed-door meeting between the governor and members of the legislature.
"While these meetings may not involve deliberations, actions, decisions, or even a vote, such meetings consist of intricate conversations which impact the community and should never be closed to the public," states a press release from Moylan's office.
According to Moylan's office, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's first closed-door meeting with the senators took place in 2019. It involved discussions on the military buildup.
"Both meetings concerned many in the community, including the media, as it was bewildering as to why these meetings were not open to the public," states a press release from Moylan's office.
Moylan said while the May 11 closed-door meeting was within the legal parameters of the law, he wasn’t comfortable with it being private.
"I initially contemplated not attending, as I did in 2019, when the governor held another closed-door meeting with senators, but I also did not want to lose out on listening to the governor’s spending plan, thus my participation," Moylan added.
"I understand that certain meetings, including caucuses or strategic discussions among elected officials can remain private, but whenever the governor and senators meet officially, that conversation should never be confined within a closed door. It boils down to transparency,” Moylan said.
Republican Sen. Joanne Brown was the first one to protest what she called a "secret legislative session" with the governor.
Brown said the legislature should never meet, deliberate or decide public business in secret. "It’s when these types of secret meetings are held, corruption thrives. I will not condone such activities by attending them,” she said.
She reminded her colleagues and the government that compliance with the Open Government law is not optional.