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LBJ board appeals to governor in Popo matter

The LBJ Board has respectfully asked Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga to step aside and allow the board to proceed with personnel policies and procedures outlined in the hospital’s Human Resources Personnel Policy and Administration Manual, regarding the sudden suspension of EMS Manager Galumalemana Fuapopo “Popo” Avegalio, last week.


The letter was signed by Chairperson, Tofoitaufa Sandra King Young and board members, Dr Tofaeono Victor Williams, Leiataua Leuga Turner, Mase Akapo and Faimealelei Anthony Allen.


The letter sent to the governor on Wednesday, was in response to the governor’s letter delivered last week Friday, late afternoon, to the LBJ board and management, requesting the reinstatement of Popo.


In his letter, Lolo said he believed there was no justifiable reason to take such drastic action against the EMS Manager and asked the LBJ Board to immediately take steps to reinstate Popo to his normal duties and responsibilities.


The members of the LBJ Board, in their letter, dated Feb. 12, noted that under the hospital’s policies, Popo has the right to appeal the management’s decision to terminate his employment in a hearing before the board and then proceed to the court if he chooses to do so.


“The hearing process will allow us to obtain a full factual background, give Mr. Avegalio the opportunity to explain his perspective, and grant the same opportunity to the hospital management.


“Once we have complete information, the Board may then make a reasoned decision as to whether Mr. Avegalio’s termination should stand or whether his employment should be reinstated,” says the letter.


Board members say in the letter that Popo’s due process rights to fair notice and appeal were triggered when he was given notice of his impending termination.


Board members further state that they respect the governor’s right to intervene with the hospital’s personnel issues, “however we are now in an awkward position to either uphold the appeal system outlined in the hospital’s policies or undermine our own authority as a Board, hospital management and hospital personnel policies by reinstating Mr. Avegalio without following the proper due process procedures.”


They wrote, “We wish to proceed in all fairness to the parties involved in this matter without compromising our responsibilities and duties as a Board.”


The board asked Governor Lolo “with the utmost respect for your leave to allow Mr. Avegalio to follow the appeal process… so the board can fully investigate the matter of his termination."


They then state: “we believe the process of transparency and accountability will achieve an outcome that is fair to all parties. It will also assist us in addressing long-standing issues that have been chronic problems for EMS Services.


“We believe this process is in keeping with the spirit of your vision to uphold your values of transparency and accountability, which will ensure equality and fairness in this matter.”


Attorney for Galumalemana “Popo”, Charles Ala'ilima, told Samoa News they will proceed with the appeal process.


“We believe the decision to suspend and pending termination are both not in accordance with the rules. The suspension was unprofessional and not called for in the circumstances and we don’t see any grounds for termination, it's premature,” said Alai’ilima.


In the sudden suspension of Popo last week, the governor said in his letter, dated Feb. 7, that he found this “management behavior unacceptable and unimaginable, given that one of his administration’s governance pillars is equity and fair treatment of employees with their rights safe guarded and preserved.”


Lolo wrote it has also come to his attention that employees may be having their rights trampled upon with fear tactics used to intimidate employees, to blindly follow the will of the Chief Executive Officer (Mike Gerstenberger).


“Since when is an employee terminated because he responded to instruction issued by the Governor? Is this the type of management and leadership model being utilized to run the hospital?” he asked.