Robert Redford starred in the eponymous 1998 film “The Horse Whisperer,” in which he played the title character.
Guam doesn’t have a horse whisperer, but we do have a Wolff Whisperer. He’s no Robert Redford but attorney Eric Miller plays that role at the Civil Service Commission to the chagrin of attorney Matt Wolff.
Another media outlet reported that during a CSC hearing Miller whispered into the ear of CSC chairman Juan Calvo prompting an immediate five-minute closed-door recess. Miller’s whispering deprived the other commissioners and the audience of the wisdom imparted to Calvo which apparently prompted the closed-door recess.
Most egregiously affected by the whisper was Matt Wolff who was attempting to defend the Guam Fire Department in a paradoxically titled post-audit hearing. Wolff had a tough enough job as it was without having to deal with Miller’s whispering.
During the hearing, the CSC staff reported that three firemen were entitled to relief on a claim that arose 10 years ago, even though the CSC had already dismissed the case once. As so many of us did in our youth, the three wanted to be firemen. They resigned from their GovGuam jobs and were hired by the Fire Department at the entry-level for firemen.
Wolff seems to have time, as well as some law, on his side. Ten years is a long time.
“The law helps the vigilant, before those who sleep on their rights.” This maxim of jurisprudence from California Civil Code, while not controlling, fits. The CSC’s Rip Van Winkle approach to this case could result in a substantial award of back pay to the firemen, given the lapse of ten years.
Wolff Whisperer Miller’s approach to his duties in light of several provisions of our Open Government Law is alarming. Obviously, the object of whispering is that only one person hears the message.
First, the Open Government Law provides that no public officer can prevent or deny the recording of any public meeting. You can’t record what you can’t hear.
Wolff alleges that the five-minute closed-door recess was an executive session. An executive session with counsel involves compliance with five provisions of the Open Government Law:
· A written recommendation from counsel.
· An affirmative vote of a majority of the commissioners.
· A verbatim transcript by an authorized court reporter.
· Notices of the executive session meeting shall indicate the place and time of the meeting, and shall indicate the general subject matter to be discussed.
· A post-meeting affidavit of counsel that only matters relating to litigation or pending litigation have been discussed.
The law also provides, “No chance meeting, informal assemblage or electronic communication shall be used to decide or deliberate public business in circumvention of the spirit or requirements of this chapter.”
Were the commissioners discussing the case before them or just chatting about their favorite radio talk shows? We should never have to ask that question. The commissioners should be guardians of the Open Government Law, not acting in such a manner or tolerating activities that call into question their and counsel’s compliance with the law.
The downside risk of noncompliance can sting. The Open Government Law provides that knowing attendance at a meeting in violation the law amounts to a misdemeanor, plus action taken in the meeting is void.
We should be able to expect civility from the Civil Service Commission. As children we were told that whispering in front of others is bad manners. As demonstrated by Wolff Whisperer Miller, it’s also illegal. For his troubles, Matt Wolff was treated to CSC’s approach to civility. “Wolff was asked to leave as he attempted to speak during the hearing.”
On March 10, John O’Connor of the Guam Daily Post, covered the Wolff Whisperer. John may have to bug the chairman’s seat to get the real scoop at future CSC meetings.
Bob Klitzkie is a former senator and Superior Court of Guam judge pro tem. He hosts the talk show, “Tall Tales,” on KUSG-FM (93.3 FM) weekday afternoons from 4 to 6 p.m. Send feedback to email@example.com.