Some mayors took time out of a council meeting on Wednesday to voice concerns about the Open Government Act’s requirements for their municipal planning council meetings or community planning activities, and because the costs to comply with the law eat away at other priorities.
A frustrated Dededo mayor, Melissa Savares, said she spent $264 of unrestricted funds to advertise an MPC meeting next week, money she says could otherwise be used to help her residents. .
“This is an unfunded mandate that the Legislature requires us to do. They didn’t give us any money for this…I’ve been stressing out for a week just trying to put this thing together. I don’t think not that the legislature is stressing out, they have staff to stress out for them,” Savares said at the Guam Council of Mayors meeting on Wednesday.
The mayors were discussing Public Law 36-34, which was signed into law in June 2021. This update to the Open Government Law requires agency meetings to be livestreamed. It also requires meeting notices to contain agenda items with enough detail “to inform the public of what needs to be discussed.” Any action taken at a meeting would be void if the terms of publication or dissemination of the agenda were not met.
MCOG executive director Angel Sablan said he would write a letter to the attorney general to clarify the application of the law, but it appears to apply to MPC village meetings.
“The governor … she has made it clear to the Legislative Assembly that this is an unfunded term,” Sablan said Wednesday. “And even making sure it’s all live, many offices don’t even have the equipment, the internet to do all of that. But that’s the law. Unfortunately, that’s the law. We have to just comply.”
Funding to help mayors comply with the law will be budgeted for next fiscal year, Sablan added. In the meantime, mayors will have to “dig somewhere” in their funding, he said.
Chalan Pago-Ordot Mayor Jessy Gogue said for him the problem comes down to dollars and cents.
“If we look at what Mayor Savares had indicated about having to pay $264…a single year of his expenses is $3,168,” Gogue said.
While this may not impact as much on a large village like Dededo with a generally larger budget, it can hurt smaller villages, Gogue added.
“This year, the operating budget (of Chalan Pago-Ordot) was around $36,000. That’s almost 10% of the budget that was allocated to us this year just for advertising… I don’t have the infrastructure to do it. I don’t have the cameras and the computers,” Gogue said.
“And instead of giving us the money to fix this problem, (the Legislative Assembly) cut our budget. This year and last year, they cut our budget. And we are already sacrificing repairs to our roads, road maintenance, repairs to our equipment, etc. What more do they want from us? Gogue said, further adding that forcing mayors to spend money that could be better spent on direct voter support was “purely culpable”.
Sinajana Mayor Robert Hofmann asked how far into their activities — planning an Easter egg hunt, for example — the requirements of the Open Government Act would apply.
“I just don’t see people willing to step in to do anything anymore,” he said.
Piti Mayor and MCOG President Jesse Alig asked Sablan to include this aspect in his survey of the GA.