Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero was wrong to freeze parts of the island’s open government law, according to local rights group The Vigilance Committee, which asked the governor to cite his legal authority to do so.
âWhen you start removing laws that are there to protect the public, that’s when you step into dangerous territory,â Michelle Armenta, president of the nonprofit group, said Thursday. “I understand that we are in the midst of a crisis, but you can go about it in a different way.”
Leon Guerrero on Tuesday issued a decree temporarily suspending sections of the Open Government Act, including provisions ensuring the public’s right to be informed of upcoming meetings of government boards and commissions and to attend and record such meetings.
As a result, boards and commissions may allow the public to attend meetings, but they are not legally required to do so and would not face any penalties for denial of access.
Councils and commissions are still required to keep minutes of their meetings, which must be submitted to the Legislative Assembly and the Governor. They are also required to record their meetings and submit the recording to the Public Accountability Office within seven days. The OPA posts audio recordings of government meetings on its website.
The governor said temporary changes to the open government law, in effect until at least April 13, were requested by the attorney general, to remove bureaucracy and allow the government to operate more efficiently during the health crisis. current.
“They basically take away everything the committee stands for,” Armenta said.
The group’s concerns
Armenta sent a letter to the governor on Wednesday outlining the group’s concerns. The governor’s decree “has created a situation which encourages abuse of public trust,” the letter said. Instead, the governor should have considered ordering boards and commissions to enforce social distancing rules at public meetings, he said.
Armenta, using the Sunshine Reform Act, also asked the governor to provide copies of any laws, rules or regulations that give Leon Guerrero the power to suspend the open government law.
Armenta said there were elderly people in her house, so she would not personally take the risk of attending a government meeting at this time. But others should still have the right to attend, she said.
A group of concerned citizens formed the Vigilance Committee last summer, Armenta said. There is strength in unity, she said, and the formation of the group was an effort to get answers and hold the government to account.
“We just want to know what the government is doing,” she said, adding that the group would submit information requests to the government on behalf of residents. âWhen you start to take away people’s rights, the government is free to do whatever it wants without being responsible for its actions. “
According to the governor’s decree, the following provisions of the Open Government Act are suspended until at least April 13:
- The requirement to hold public meetings of boards and agencies and to allow any member of the public to attend and record these meetings;
- The requirement to give five days public notice for public meetings, with a second notice at least 48 hours before the meeting;
- Rules concerning adjourned public meetings and the obligation to post a notice of adjournment at the meeting place;
- The law that overrules actions taken by a council or commission if the open government law is not followed;
- The law that makes it an offense for members of boards and commissions to knowingly attend a meeting that violates the Open Government Act; and
- The ability of the public to take legal action to prevent or stop violations of the Open Government Act.
This article originally appeared on Pacific Daily News: Citizens’ group opposes freeze on open government law