OPINION | Report to the people (2)

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IN the first part of this Report to the People, I highlighted the legislative activities I have been involved in during this term in the 21st House of Representatives.

Part I describes bills I have worked on and supported, bills I have opposed, committee responsibilities including oversight, and a look ahead at legislative priorities in the remainder of this term and into the next.

Part II of this report continues with an overview of our office’s constituent services, operations, and outreach programs.

Constituent Services

Our office responds daily to constituent inquiries and manages casework for individuals needing assistance in navigating government agencies and programs. Over the past two years we have fielded hundreds of inquiries and requests for help on issues ranging from federal unemployment assistance to unpaid wages, unfair furloughs, retirement pensions, Covid-19 protocols, emergency food and rental assistance, CUC billing problems, health care coverage, stimulus checks, tax refunds, workers compensation, worksite safety, immigration matters, Medicaid and food stamp applications, issues with public lands, pedestrian safety concerns, and nuisance complaints regarding stray animals, illegal burning, illegal dumping, and zoning violations.

To assist constituents in resolving their issues, and depending on the matter, our office has reached out to the Saipan Mayor’s Office, Zoning Office, Department of Finance, Department of Commerce, Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, Commonwealth Health Care Corporation including the Bureau of Environmental Health and Women, Infants, and Children, Nutrition Assistance Program, Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, Department of Public Works, Northern Marianas Housing Corporation, CNMI Medicaid Office, CNMI Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and the U.S. Delegate’s Office, among others.

Sometimes we obtain updates for constituents on the status of their pending applications, disputes, or appeals. Other times we make referrals to social service agencies and nonprofit organizations for constituents in need, particularly those impacted by disaster, austerity cuts, unemployment, food insecurity, and eviction. We also follow up with government departments and agencies on requests for the delivery of public services or public works projects, or the enforcement of CNMI laws and regulations.     

When the first cases of Covid-19 reached the Northern Marianas and much of the government including the legislature shut down, our office began teleworking almost immediately. We attended online and teleconference briefings with the Commonwealth Health Care Corporation, Covid-19 task force, Public School System, and others, and we shared information on social media. We addressed numerous inquiries from constituents about the government’s Covid-19 response and the ever-changing and sometimes confusing executive orders and protocols. We communicated with individuals in quarantine and their families, residents trying to return to the Northern Marianas, students and parents wondering how and when they would safely resume their education or avail of school meals again, and residents concerned about curfew hours, closed parks, congested business establishments and panic buying. We also reached out to social service organizations to learn about their Covid-19 protocols for delivering relief to people in need of food or rental assistance, and we shared that information and made referrals for constituents as well.

Office Operations

I do not take a legislative allowance, nor do I lease a vehicle or have a government-paid cell phone. The only government travel I have done during this term has been to Rota and Tinian for public hearings and sessions. These brief trips have included airfare, hotel, and ground transportation costs that were paid out of our office operational account. I paid for my own meals and incidentals and did not take a per diem.  

Over the past two years, our office has employed one full-time office manager, one full-time outreach/constituent services coordinator, and two interns. We have also contracted the part-time services of independent legal counsel, and shared a part-time community worker with another office. Late last year, we contracted a professional development trainer to conduct a workshop in customer service and office management at the legislature. The training was open to all staff from individual member offices and from the legislative bureau, and was well-attended.  

At this time, our office has one regular full-time employee: office manager Ms. Tokie Mojica, who oversees administrative responsibilities as well as constituent services/casework.   

Outreach and Community Engagement

One of the most rewarding parts of this job is the chance to regularly meet and interact with constituents, share information and listen to ideas, and collaborate with other agencies, nonprofit groups, and volunteers in community projects. 

Over the last two years, our office has partnered with legislative colleagues on both sides of the political aisle, as well as government agencies and departments, nonprofit groups, and volunteers in conducting multiple cleanup and beautification campaigns in and around Precinct 2. These efforts have targeted Sugar Dock Beach, Lali 4 Beach, WSR Elementary School, Hopwood Middle School, and residential areas in Chalan Kanoa and Susupe.

Together with our partners, we have planted hundreds of trees, flowers, and edible crops, picked up thousands of pounds of trash, and coordinated the removal of junk vehicles and illegal dumpsites in the villages. Most recently, we helped jumpstart Susupe’s first community garden, in coordination with area residents, the Board of Parole, Division of Forestry, Division of Agriculture, NMC-CREES, the Saipan Mayor’s Office, and DFEMS.

In August 2019 we organized the CNMI’s first Opportunity Expo, showcasing opportunities in employment, vocational training and higher education, small business financing and development, health services, vocational rehabilitation, assistance for people with disabilities, and addiction recovery. Approximately 40 different government, nonprofit, and private sector partners participated in the expo, and more than 300 residents attended.

We have additionally led and participated in community planning initiatives. Our office hosted the “Our Sense of Place” community mapping forum for Precinct 2 early last year, and worked with our Precinct 2 colleagues and representatives from CUC, DPW, and Zoning to conduct a follow-up town hall meeting. We compiled the feedback received at these community forums and incorporated them in comments submitted for other planning exercises with the Office of Planning and Development, including the updating of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy.

We also issued a letter to the Department of Public Works identifying the priority infrastructure projects that had been highlighted at community meetings and for which local funding had already been appropriated. We inquired about the progress of these projects in the letter and in subsequent meetings and phone calls. These priorities include Sugar Dock’s architectural and engineering design, flooding and drainage issues in the villages, crosswalk improvements and replacements of street signs and streetlights, repairs at social halls and basketball courts, and the demolition of an old, condemned municipal building in Chalan Kanoa. Many of these projects are still pending and require continual follow-up.

I have always believed in the importance of showing up and participating in public meetings, especially on issues that greatly impact the community. I have done so regularly as a concerned citizen, and continue to do so as a legislator. Over the past two years, I have attended and commented at meetings of the Commonwealth Casino Commission, the Lottery Commission, the Board of Education, and the Zoning Office. In the legislature, when major bills appear to be on a fast-track to passage, I have urged for public hearings and other opportunities for affected community members, agencies, and other stakeholders to review and comment on proposed legislation. Sometimes my colleagues have listened - most recently, in the case of a proposal to rezone the area from Sugar Dock Beach to Lali 4 Beach and beyond, from village residential and village commercial uses to tourist resort. I reached out to constituents to notify them of the legislation, communicated my concerns with my colleagues and Zoning staff about the bill and the need for more public awareness, and attended a subsequent community meeting where residents expressed their concerns and objections.

Throughout the years and during this term, I have taken every opportunity that I could to promote civic engagement, particularly among local youth and women. I have been a guest speaker on government and current issues for students all over the island, including Northern Marianas College and public and private schools. I have also presented at various community events for women, including the CNMI Women’s Summit, the H.E.R.S. panels on women’s representation, and the Soroptomists’ forum. The next project I am working on is a civics education program for social media to encourage and empower citizens to better understand our government and learn how to find information and more effectively participate in decision-making to improve our community.  

I work for you

As your representative in the Northern Marianas Legislature, I work for you, the people of Precinct 2 and the Commonwealth.  I am grateful for the opportunity to serve, and I take seriously my responsibilities and the public trust I have been given. I also welcome feedback. For questions or comments, to share ideas or concerns, I can be reached by phone at 664-8829 (office) and 285-3935 (cell/WhatsApp), by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or on social media @reptinasablan 

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