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‘Half of the people here are my relatives. What do you say to that?’

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“WE’RE done,”  Department of Public Safety Commissioner Robert A. Guerrero said before leaving the House chamber after an exchange of words with Rep. Tina M. Sablan during a budget hearing on Wednesday.

Sablan had asked him to explain how he recused himself from the hiring process involving his relatives, namely his sons, adding that there have been reports of nepotism in the hiring process of the department.

“Congresswoman, half of the people here are my relatives. What do you say to that?” Guerrero said.

He said of his two sons, only one was transferred from the Department of Commerce to DPS, but that he, as commissioner,  was not involved in the hiring process.

“But don’t you have two sons that work for the department?” Sablan asked.

“I did not hire the first one,” Guerrero replied. “I just told you. Which part don’t you understand?”

He then told the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Rep. Ivan Blanco, that “if this is gonna be the way it is, we’re done.”

 

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Robert A. Guerrero leaves the House chamber on Wednesday following an exchange of words with Rep. Tina Sablan. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

Sablan also asked the commissioner whether the department adhered to the Civil Service Commission regulations when furloughing its employees.

Guerrero said he decided who to furlough based on performance and loyalty.

He did note, however, that the Office of Personnel Management was also involved in the furlough process, and that there is no assistant attorney general permanently assigned to DPS.

He said the main reason for furloughing 11 of the civil service employees of the department was due to lack of funds.

The department, he added, had to cut its budget by $2.1 million in light of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Under the FY 2020 budget, DPS was supposed to get $6.9 million.

“Mr. Commissioner, are you aware that the civil service regulations state that the policy of the government is for the appointed authority — in this case, you — to exhaust all administrative alternatives to place the employee in another position before the reduction of force is instituted with minimum negative impact on operations and employees? Did you follow that? Did you exhaust all administrative alternatives? What did you do?”  Sablan asked Guerrero.

“I furloughed them,” he replied. “We furloughed them because of lack of funds. That’s all the alternative means that I have. That is the main reason why they were furloughed: because of lack of funds. Based on that, I had to make a decision [on] which of the employees I had to furlough.”

Sablan then asked, “Are you aware that the civil service regulations state that reduction of force should recognize seniority and tenure and protection of public interests, and when positions are abolished, the incumbent withstanding should have first priority, and limited term appointments and other more recent hires should be the first to go?”

Guerrero said he was aware of the regulations, but did not recognize and consider seniority in selecting which employees to furlough.

The House gallery was packed with DPS officials and officers who were there  to justify the budget proposal of the department for Fiscal Year 2021.

The administration has proposed a $4.8 million budget for DPS, which requested $7 million.

Guerrero was also asked about  the role of his department in the governor’s promotional trip to the Northern Islands.

He said two DPS search and rescue boats and four personnel were utilized on the trip, adding that the personnel would receive overtime payment.

Sablan said the search and rescue boats used on the Northern Islands trip could have gone toward the efforts to find the missing swimmer, Honorio Ricky Encabo.

“I am troubled by the use of very scarce resources for trips like this,” she said. “These are search and rescue boats that are intended for search and rescue operations… All resources need to be mobilized when somebody goes missing, and the problem is that available resources need to be there in the first place.”

She added, “There was another boat that could have been used for the search and rescue, but it was up in the Northern Islands. I would really strongly urge that you reconsider this practice of sending search and rescue boats and personnel for non-urgent purposes, especially given the limited resources.”

The commissioner nodded in agreement.

As for the crime rate, he said it has decreased. “I know our statistics went down by 40% two or three years ago with regards to drugs, and we continue to be vigilant, keeping in mind that when we reduce that, it also reduces burglary and theft,” the commissioner said.

He also reported that traffic incidents and fatalities have “tremendously been reduced even during the holidays.”

Blanco said: “It’s very important for the community to see the result of your work. That’s good news that your vigilance with the drug busts also equates to a low number of burglaries.”

 

 

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