Monday, November 30, 2020

Electoral Code May Impede Outgoing Puerto Rico Chief of Staff from Running for Elective Office

By on December 18, 2019

SAN JUAN — The Puerto Rico governor’s outgoing chief of staff, former New Progressive Party (NPP) Sen. Zoé Laboy, could potentially see herself prevented from running for any elected office, as gleaned from the Puerto Rico Electoral Code itself.

Specifically, Article 8.0001, subsection B, sub-subsection (7) states that “any applicant for an elective office, who serves as the head or nominating authority of an agency, department, government dependency or public corporation in the Executive Branch, except the Governor, must submit their resignation to said position thirty (30) days before the start of the period of filing applications.”

Laboy’s resignation to the position she will hold until Dec. 31, after having handed her letter Wednesday morning to step down from her appointment by Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced, should have occurred on or before Nov. 1, 30 days before the State Elections Commission (CEE by its Spanish acronym) began its candidacy filing period Dec. 1, according to the electoral code.

The chief of staff position was created by former Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón in 1986 through Administrative Bulletin 46690, which constituted the Ministry of the Interior and its Advisory Body. In addition, it provided him with powers of direction and oversight of “the interaction of the Governor and the departments, organisms and instrumentalities of the Executive Branch of the Government”.

In 1993, under the administration of former Gov. Pedro Rosselló González, Executive Order 1993-01 emerged, which expanded more on the functions inherent to the office.

The aforementioned order has as its inherent function the duty “to direct and supervise the execution and instrumentation by the members of the Constitutional Cabinet and the Operational Cabinet their respective departments, agencies, organisms and instrumentalities of the Executive Branch of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, of the Government public and program policy, as established by the governor. ”

Finally, the executive order empowers the chief of staff to “appoint, subject to the approval of the Governor, those assistants or advisers that he deems necessary in the discharge of his responsibilities and functions as Chief of Staff, delegating to those persons those powers that he considers pertinent and those people who will be part of the Body of Advisers of the Governor.”

Therefore, after reading the Electoral Code and the Executive Order that creates the position, it could be concluded that the functions attributable to the position occupied by Laboy could be considered as those performed by a chief or appointing authority within the executive branch.

Should we understand that as of today the resigning chief of staff cannot run for elective office because she does not fulfill the requirement of having resigned 30 days before the start of the candidacy filing process, Caribbean Business asked.

“I am unable to answer that question, since that matter could become a controversy to be adjudicated by this servant,” CEE President Juan Ernesto Dávila Rivera.

A similar question was brought to the attention of Popular Democratic Party Rep. Jesús Manuel Ortiz González while he served as Public Affairs and Press secretary of former Gov. Alejandro García Padilla. When officially announcing his candidacy for a House seat on Dec. 16, 2015, he was emphatic in pointing out that he would not have to resign his appointment.

“No. The law [Electoral Code] is addressed to agency heads, heads of public agencies and heads of public corporations. The position of secretary of Public Affairs is not one of the three that I just mentioned. It is a position created by executive order. Therefore, I am not part of the officials that the law requires that they have to resign from their position,” Ortiz said at that time.

The executive order to which Ortiz referred to is EO 2015-41, which contrary to the order that created the chief of staff position, does not establish language conducive to the Public Affairs and Press secretary having the power to serve as chief or appointing authority of the executive branch.

CB left a request with the CEE for any document or order in its files that interprets the scope of the Electoral Code on the matter.

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