Something fishier than unwashed, bottom-feeding tilapia is happening between Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and the U.S. Navy. Whether and how complicit or foolish each of six senators seen to be in her back pocket will reveal itself over the next 13 days.
Speaker Therese Terlaje next Monday will be moving for the override of two bills into law that essentially will reinforce Attorney General Douglas Moylan’s legal opinion that the governor will need the legislature’s approval before signing a land lease with the Navy. That lease, which will lead to an insane and (so far) opaque $1 billion mega-hospital development at our expense, will commit taxpayers to build a medical campus within 10 years, or make rental back payments at Eagle’s Field, Mangilao.
The governor has spent the past nearly-two years planning the billion-dollar development behind closed doors, then negotiating lease terms with the Navy. Joint Region Marianas Commander Admiral Benjamin Nicholson last month signed the lease and gave Ms. Leon Guerrero until April 14, to sign the lease or lose the opportunity to build the hospital at Eagle’s Field. Doctors, senators, and several citizens celebrated March 31, when Attorney General Douglas Moylan sent the lease back to the governor without his required signature. The terms of the lease were illegal, according to his legal opinion, for several reasons. Among those reasons were the lease’s commitment of public funds without the Organic Act requirement for the legislature to first appropriate those funds.
Mr. Moylan’s refusal to sign the lease on legal grounds gave hope to those wanting the governor to build the new hospital in Tamuning. Several senators have asked her to build the facility, where GovGuam once operated a public hospital. Last Friday, the deadline came and went.
And suddenly, today, Adelup announced what should be considered a political miracle. The governor sent the admiral a letter on April 14 asking that he extend his deadline, and on April 14, the admiral responded: ‘no problem, governor.’ The new “deadline,” (someone should get the admiral a dictionary) is April 30, 2023.
What belies this deal to the public interest?
Why is the governor pushing so hard for this location, which inherently will cost the taxpayers more in development costs?
Why did the U.S. Navy about-face its deadline so quickly?
The Chinese government should want Mr. Nicholson at the United States’s negotiating table, given his pliability.
The U.S. State Department should want Ms. Leon Guerrero at theirs, considering her ability to get the strongest military in the world to change its mind in one day.
The tilapia stinks.
Sen. Chris Barnett thinks so, too:
“If the Governor is genuine in her desire to address the many concerns the Attorney General has with the Lalo’ lease, then she should start by sitting down with the whole Legislature and explaining to us why she thinks this is the “deal of a lifetime” for the People of Guam.
“The lack of legislative involvement and approval of the lease was a major red flag for the AG.
“Likewise, the Admiral should stop imposing deadlines on the civilian government and let us take our time to address the lease – which was so incomplete the AG couldn’t do a full legal review on it. The People of Guam don’t deserve to be rushed into a deal we haven’t seen the big picture or the fine print on.
“The Admiral and the Department of Defense should acknowledge that conducting negotiations in secret has led us to this juncture and to further proceed with the lease without having the involvement of the legally required branches of our government is a slap in the face to the democratic values that should come with living under the US flag.”
Fooled by the governor, or fooling our people?
Bill No. 12-37, which Ms. Terlaje sponsored and Ms. Leon Guerrero vetoed in February, would have required legislative approval before the governor could enter into such a lease. Nine senators the day before Mr. Moylan’s heroic opinion voted to override the veto and kill the Eagle’s Field option and to force the governor’s hand to move the hospital development to Tamuning – Speaker Terlaje, and Sens. Chris Barnett, Sabina Perez, Frank Blas, Jr., Telo Taitague, Joanne Brown, Tom Fisher, Jesse Lujan, and Chris Duenas. Alas, six senators known as the Adelup Six sided with the governor, having offered no clear reasoning for their votes.
“[I]t is disturbing that the Leon Guerrero – Tenorio administration has been negotiating a contract that ignores and excludes the necessary authorizations and appropriations from the Legislature,” Sen. Frank Blas, Jr. wrote to Ms. Terlaje today, adding a request: “I suggest that we insert ourselves into these discussions by conducting oversight hearings on the concerns specific to the Legislature’s statutory role and responsibilities in a government agreement, how the Governor had intended to effectuate the lease without legislative authorization, and how the Governor intends to proceed now that the AG has opined that legislative participation is necessary.”
The speaker responded with an invitation to Ms. Leon Guerrero and Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio to, themselves, appear before senators at an April 25 hearing to make their pitch for the billion-dollar Eagle’s Field development.
She also had a lot to get off her chest in the letter:
“Prior to my attempt to override the vetoes of Bill No. 12-37 (COR) and Bill No. 13-37 (COR), I asked you to come to the Legislature to discuss your plans and the information missing in the lease documents. In almost all the remarks on the override, Senators requested that information be presented. You have confirmed to the media today that you have not sent any additional information to the Legislature regarding your plans or your renewed negotiations. You instead hint of using Organic Act powers in contravention of the AG review.
“We have also been informed through media reports today that Rear Admiral Benjamin Nicholson of the Joint Region Marianas has granted a thirteen-day extension (April 30, 2023) of the deadline he set for the Government of Guam signing of the lease, upon your request. I am concerned with the lack of transparency that while on Friday the media was given no update, on Monday, we see that in fact there were requests to extend the deadline and the Admiral, contrary to earlier statements suggesting we petition the Secretary of the Navy, now has authority to extend the deadline.
“The Committee on Land held three total oversights on April 8, 2021, November 18, 2021, on October 18, 2022, regarding the proposed use of Eagle’s Field and the location of the new hospital. The 36th Guam Legislature’s Committee on Health, Land, Justice, and Culture sent a total of five separate Freedom of Information Act requests in October 2021, April 2022, June 2022, October 2022, and November 2022, to the executive branch, including agencies, to seek information on this medical campus and the proposed site at Lålo in Mangilao. Despite media quotes to the contrary, the FOIA responses did not yield any lease or documents indicating specificity on agreements with the federal government regarding the decision to enter into a lease, nor any document showing that the property would remain in the federal assets inventory if a hospital was not built there. The first time a draft lease was provided to the Legislature was after unanimous passage of Bill No. 12-37. Communication attached to the lease made clear that negotiations had been ongoing without Legislative approval for several years.
“This invitation is another good faith attempt to follow through with the Legislature’s commitment to assist in the building of a new hospital, but there must be a commitment on your part to go forward with truth and transparency for the people of Guam first and foremost. The Committee looks forward to seeing the new details of your plans and working together to do what is required of us by law, as representatives of the people of Guam, to move forward with building a new hospital.”
The questions are stacking, but it all comes down to this: Who is making off on this deal? And, will each of the six senators, who previously blocked a publicly-popular attempt to require the governor to follow the law continue to stooge for Ms. Leon Guerrero? Will Mr. Tenorio, who has to worry about his rumored run for governor, go down this fishy road with her?
Those six senators – Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes, and Sens. Joe San Agustin, Roy Quinata, William Parkinson, Dwayne San Nicolas, and Amanda Shelton – have a lot of explaining to do, especially if they dig in their heels at the override attempt. But even now, and since the legal opinion by Mr. Moylan, these six senators should have been answering to us, the voting public, how it is they weren’t aware that the power of the purse belongs to the legislature, not the executive.
Their vote against the override of Bill No. 12, and its companion legislation, Bill No. 13, spoke volumes of either their aptitude as legislators, or their contempt for the public trust. They either were fooled by the governor, or tried to fool us, the people.
That’s our money, senators. That’s our hospital. The governor and the admiral already are knee deep in their muddy murky waters of tilapia. Whatever lurks between them and surrounding them is a deal outside the public interest. It’s a deal at least one of the Adelup Six, together with the nine other senators committed to protecting the people of Guam and their descendants can stop. And stop this deal, you must.