House confirms Le’i with 17-1 vote
HTC Le’i Sonny Thompson got the nod from the House of Representatives Thursday with a vote of 17-1 after a brief hearing before Chairman Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Allen and the House Committee on Government Operations.
The gallery was packed with family members, friends, and employees of the Department of Human Resources who were there to offer their support for Le'i.
A retired military officer, Le’i told House committee members that he had yearned for the DHR directorship posts during past administrations but he was never selected for it. He said he is content with Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga’s decision to nominate him as DHR director, as his last duty station before retiring from the US Air Force was in Los Angeles, where he was in personnel management.
The less than an hour hearing, concluded with Le’i saying that despite many people advising him to lobby for his confirmation, he did want to take that route, and that is why he chose not to go knocking on any doors.
“I want to serve,” Le’i said, adding that he is laying everything out on the table, and the faipule can render whatever decision they want. (Over the years, it is not uncommon for cabinet appointees to lobby for their confirmations by visiting each lawmaker at their workplace or residence, asking for their vote and have alleged to even slipping them an envelope with a little monetary gift).
Rep. Maugaoalii Leapai Tusipa Anoai asked Le’i if he has pinpointed, during the two weeks he has been the acting DHR director, any areas of the department that need work or improvement. Le’i responded that everything seems to be running smoothly, and the employees are doing a good job.
Rep. Puletu Koko asked Le’i to look into filling the vacant teacher positions for schools in Fofo District. Puletu said a lot of teachers are no longer working and there is a need to fill these positions with people qualified for the job.
Freshman Rep. Talaimatai Elisaia Su’a said that in his personal opinion, Le’i should be working as Commissioner of Public Safety or the director of the Department of Homeland Security. The Saole lawmaker asked Le’i, “What thoughts came to you in your dreams, to make you want to take up this job and accept the Governor's nomination?” Le’i responded that his background is in the human resources field, as this was his job in the military. His college degree is also in human resources. He said as DHR director, he has a lot of opportunity to help the local government workforce by addressing issues dealing with salaries and classification. He said there are important matters that need to be looked into, like the minimum wage.
Committee vice-chair Rep. Florence Vaili Saulo brought up the issue of favorable hiring practices and said that over the years, she has heard stories about how government employees are hired based on personal connections and family ties, rather than qualifications. She urged Le’i not to continue this trend, advising him to make it fair for everyone and base the awarding of jobs strictly on qualifications.
Le’i responded that there are laws, rules and policies that are already in place regarding the hiring process and he intends to follow them. He said if it was common practice in the past to show favoritism during the hiring process, it won’t happen again.
Rep. Atualevao Gafatasi Afalava urged Le’i to not only rely on his wisdom and knowledge but also on God’s guidance to carry out the job. He said honesty, coupled with love, are essential in order to succeed in any job. The Aitulagi faipule said he is always proud to see military retirees returning home to serve the territory and the people of American Samoa.
Committee chairman Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Allen concluded the hearing by addressing the issue of overtime compensation for gubernatorial appointees, as noted in Title 10 of the American Samoa Code Annotated. He told Le’i to look into the matter, and read aloud the first line of this particular section of the law which states that all gubernatorial appointees are entitled to overtime compensation, notwithstanding that they may have work beyond regular hours.
Faimealelei said there are CTs that are being carried over from as far back as 5 years, and such practices need to be looked into. He said the role of a manager and/or leader, is to manage his/her people’s time cards, to determine when a person needs to take CT and/or accrued leave.
The Aua faipule said it appears that when a person becomes a director, the department that he/she leads becomes their own family agency, meaning everyone hired to work in that department is a relative, friend, or someone that lives in the same village. “This shouldn’t be the case, as jobs should be available for everyone, not just those with personal connections to those doing the hiring,” Faimealelei said. He said the position of director is a hard job to carry out and he urged Le’i to keep the faith. “Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you know is right. Don’t be a coward when it comes to making hard decisions. Do the job right and speak your mind,” Faimealelei advised. From one ex-military man to another, Faimealelei added, “Be honest, be professional, even if you have to stand up to someone as high as the Governor.”
Faimealelei urged Le’i to keep his door open, as some directors in the past have been known to keep people out. He said respect is a two way street and if it is taken, it should also be given. “Some of these people in directorship positions forget that the Fono is the reason why they got to where they are,” the Aua lawmaker said. He concluded by saying that to some people, Le’i is not an easy person to approach because of his demeanor, and reputation for not being a social person.
Faimealelei said, “You’ve been around the world, around people you’ve worked for and people who have worked for you. Use that versatility to your advantage and go with it.”
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