In the hot seat: Port GM grilled on drug testing, hiring policies

Port Authority of Guam general manager Rory Respicio and former port GM Joanne Brown (PNC graphic by Ricky De Guzman)

There were some heated exchanges today as Port Authority of Guam General Manager Rory Respicio spoke during a legislative informational hearing and oversight hearing.

Respicio spoke during two hearings today.

One was a continuation of an informational hearing regarding the port’s drug-testing protocols.

The other was an oversight hearing on the port’s hiring and HR practices dating back to 2016.

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After asking about various specific incidences where port employees tested positive for drugs, some suggested the port should perhaps test for drugs more frequently.

Respicio disagreed.

Respicio: “The issue is the Attorney General’s opinion that says random drug testing, for the sake of being a deterrent, is unconstitutional.”

Oversight chair Sen. Telena Nelson: “That’s why I’m saying, that we need to address the rules and regulations because it’s conflicting with the AG’s opinion.”

Respicio: “No, I am implementing the rules and regulations, per the Constitutional muster.”

Nelson: “With this AG’s opinion. So in the past, in 2009…there are AGs that have taken place on different situations is what I’m saying.”

Things got more heated during the oversight hearing on the port’s hiring practices.

Nelson said the hearing was called due to public concerns over whether the port followed the proper procedures to hire people with a criminal background.

More than once, Respicio seemed to suggest Nelson was insinuating that everyone working at the port is a criminal, an accusation which Nelson strongly denied.

The hearing’s contentious tone continued during Senator Joanne Brown’s turn to ask questions.

Last month, Senator Brown issued a release with some tough words for Respicio.

Respicio started by listing a number of people he says Brown hired during her tenure as Port GM who he says have criminal records.

This led to Brown saying she’s never knowingly hired anyone with a criminal record and asking Respicio if he was aware if anyone hired on his watch has one.

Brown: “What kind of crimes are we talking about, do we know?”

Respicio: “Well can you be more specific in who you’re actually talking about? So I don’t make any…”

Brown: “Well, you were very quick to want to point out during my tenure, but I will state for the record Madame Chair and to the members of the committee and to the public, I’ve never knowingly hired anyone with a criminal background. So I”m asking General Manager Respicio, he is saying he has hired individuals with a criminal background. Can you tell us what type of crimes these individuals may have committed since you’re aware of what type of criminal history they may have?”

Respicio: “Well, that’s pretty convenient to say you didn’t knowingly hire..try using that at the Civil Service Commission.”

The hearing ended with Port employee Jesse Mendiola giving heartfelt testimony about his journey turning his life around at the port after time spent in federal prison.

He asked the committee if other people at the port would be given a second chance as well.

Senator Nelson reiterated a point she made more than once during the hearing — that the hearing isn’t about denying people second chances.

“I am in no place to pass judgment on anyone. We all have a history, and I want to congratulate you on your hire. What we are doing here is ensuring that the process is within the statutes of the law.”

Respicio was asked to provide more information in five days after which the committee will publish its findings.