Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is responding to a letter Ms. Adrienne Leota has circulated to Samoa News, Samoa Post, Malama TV, and KHJ radio alleging that a non-Samoan member of his staff has taken her relatives on trips paid for by his office with monies belonging to Samoan constituents.
“This is absolutely false and I want to thank our media outlets for contacting my office to verify the facts. I also want to thank Ms. Adrienne Leota (AL) for writing this letter to the editor and posing questions and requesting my responses,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “Her questions and my responses are included below.”
AL: Interesting to read our 9-term Congressman’s kickoff for reelection and his theme of leadership and service. May I ask then, is his Chief of Staff part of that vision? Why has this person who I hear is non-Samoan being allowed to work in our Congressional office in Washington DC?
Response: It is true that Dr. Lisa Williams is non-Samoan but, as an employer, I do not and will not ever base hiring and firing decisions on a person’s race, gender, age, or religion, just as I know that since 1978 our elected governors and my own predecessor to this office also had non-Samoans working for them. Out of 22 employees, I have two non-Samoans on staff and almost an equal number of men and women varying in age and religion. I would like to believe that Ms. Leota is not a racist but by suggesting that I hire only Samoans she is proposing a totally un-American and illegal employment practice which is also contrary to our Samoan culture and values.
AL: [Dr. Williams] had frivolously taken her relatives on trips paid for by our Delegate’s office which means monies that belong to Samoan constituents.
Response: Contrary to Ms. Leota’s accusations, the trip in question was not paid for by my office and the trip was not paid for with monies belonging to Samoan constituents. I authorized Dr. Williams to take a trip paid for by the US Korea Exchange Council, a non-profit organization committed to strengthening US-Korea relations, and Ms. Leota knows full well this is the case because she included a write-up from the Center for Public Integrity which clearly states that Dr. Williams’ trip was paid for by the US-Korea Exchange Council. Since Ms. Leota knows full well who paid for the trip, I do not know why she would falsely accuse my office or Dr. Williams of any wrongdoing.
AL: I bet you if this was a Samoan, ua leva ona tutuli e Faleomavaega. Sa’o a Aliimau, Levi & Sina? Or can we hear from the Governor’s Senior Policy Advisor [Dr. Oreta Mapu] whether this was always Eni’s practice ile latou ofisa, e faataga tagata one feoa’i ma latou aiga i tupe a le Malo Tele o loo faaagaaga mo Amerika Samoa?
Response: Since Adrienne Leota mentioned the names of four previous employees of my office (Aliimau Scanlan, Enere Levi, Sina Solomona, and Dr. Oreta Mapu) and has now publicly raised questions about their employment, I suggest she talk to them and let them explain for themselves why they decided not to work for my office. As for my office policies, my policies are and always have been in compliance with House rules and, again, Dr. Williams did not travel using federal money allocated for the people of American Samoa. Her travel was paid for by the US-Korea Exchange Council.
AL: We’re coming down to the wire before November and we want to hear about this so-called leadership and service theme in our Congressional office, beginning with the Congressman’s Chief of Staff.
Response: After falsely accusing Dr. Williams of taking trips paid for with monies belonging to Samoan constituents, Ms. Leota then says she wants to hear about an online article released by the Center for Public Integrity which suggests that Dr. Williams may have violated House travel rules regarding which, and how many, family members can take sponsored trips. For the record, at no time was my office aware of the report published by the Center for Public Integrity or of any calls made by the Center seeking comments for their report. However, in response to Ms. Leota’s inquiry, I am more than pleased to set the record straight.
Because of her work with the House Committee on International Relations, Dr. Williams was invited to a conference in August of 2003 which I authorized her to attend. Staff members from other offices and the Committee were also invited and attended the conference. Contrary to the Center’s report, as long as the host organization does not incur additional expenses for family members, House rules permit family members to travel. However, if additional expenses are incurred, the staff member must reimburse the organization.
When returning from travel, House rules require staff to file an employee travel disclosure form. Dr. Williams complied with House rules by filing her employee travel disclosure form with the US House of Representatives and this document is on file and has been a matter of public record for almost three years.
On her form, Dr. Williams clearly stated that her brother, sister-in-law and niece (under 12 years of age) accompanied her to the conference. Almost three years ago, Dr. Williams also exchanged emails with an attorney from the House Committee on Standards to make sure her travel and form were in compliance given that our office manager had retired prior to the report being filed. During this time, Dr. Williams also provided the Committee attorney with all information related to her travel including information related to the death of her father which delayed the filing of her report. The Committee accepted her information and at no time did the Committee inform her that she needed to take further action.
Last week, when local media outlets brought the Center for Public Integrity’s article to my attention, I directed Dr. Williams to contact the House Committee on Standards once again to make sure she was in full compliance. She did so and resubmitted the emails she exchanged almost three years ago with the attorney from the Committee on Standards. Upon further review, a new Committee attorney determined that Dr. Williams should reimburse the organization for the expenses incurred on behalf of her family but given that the organization no longer exists she should make her check payable to a charity of her choice. Dr. Williams has done this and the Committee attorney has apologized to her for the previous attorney’s failure to properly guide her almost three years ago when she first filed her report.
“In summary, Dr. Williams is in full compliance with the rules of the House and
at no time did she intentionally do anything wrong. For Ms. Leota to accuse her of wrongdoing based on her race is deeply disappointing and I do not believe our people will support this kind of discrimination. While Ms. Leota has every right to raise questions about what was reported by the Center for Public Integrity, for her to suggest that Dr. Williams should not work in my office because she is non-Samoan tells me she does not understand one of the most fundamental principles of our Samoan culture -- which is respect for and acceptance of people from other cultures and nationalities,” Faleomavaega concluded.