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Robert Hunter named senior policy advisor

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DURING a live interview on KKMP radio Tuesday morning, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres announced that Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Robert Hunter will be his new senior policy advisor.

Hunter will resign as DCCA secretary, but will oversee it until an acting secretary is designated.

“His heart has always been with DCCA,” the governor said, referring to Hunter. “He is [also] going to be my senior policy advisor. With this role… he is going to [work] with me on activities surrounding the CNMI. He will be my right hand…in addressing our policies here in the CNMI.”

For his part, Hunter said, “I am here first and foremost for the governor. I have spent 18 years now working in various capacities at DCCA. The governor is right; it is an important department in many ways, and one that is really close to my heart. I cannot say how thankful I am that the governor has given me that opportunity. I think we really turned DCCA around in a big way for both the employees there and where our services are concerned.”

He added, “I kind of look at this [new role] as an opportunity to move on to tackle some other problems, and I thank the governor again for this new opportunity, not that I really want to leave my family at DCCA, but we are just across the field between there and the governor’s office, so I will always work closely with them.”

In a statement, the administration said Hunter, as DCCA secretary, led efforts to quadruple federal assistance for child and family services, as well as art and cultural programs for the community.

Under his leadership at DCCA, the administration added, Hunter prioritized the improvement of the delivery of programs and services of the department by outlining plans and protocol that included more transparency between leadership and employees, as well as with social service clients.

The administration said Hunter’s work at DCCA, in collaboration with division heads and employees, has resulted in:

  • A full and active Chamorro and Carolinian Language Policy Commission for the first time in nearly a decade that has collaborated well with PSS, Indigenous Affairs, and Carolinian Affairs.
  • The Child Care Development Fund identified as a “Model Program” by the Department of Health and Human Services with its federal grants doubled from $2.1 million to $4.2 million.
  • The reinstatement of eligibility of the Arts Council for federal grants under the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • The largest Flame Tree Arts Festival in CNMI history with increased support of local artists and craftsmen as well as added support and revitalization of other cultural events on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
  • The implementation with 500 Sails and Okeanos Marianas of the first traditional Chamorro voyaging vessels in the CNMI in over 200 years.
  • The development and approval of the E-NAP program, making available $32 million in additional food assistance.
  • Increased support for families and children under the Division of Youth Services programs.
  • Collaboration with the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association on the development of the new CNMI Soccer Training Facility in Koblerville.
  • Revitalization of the Oleai Sports Complex in collaboration with federal partners and the Office of Planning and Development.

“Secretary Hunter has made DCCA a more efficient and responsive agency that has improved its resource management and streamlined better social services for our people,” the governor said in a statement. “His heart is with DCCA, and he cares deeply about the employees and the community members that avail of the services. He will continue to assist DCCA in his new role as senior policy advisor, but he will also work on addressing our other policy priorities around the government. Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios and I are confident that he will serve our Commonwealth well moving forward.”

Torres said federal funding will be used for the special policy advisor’s position.

In addition to serving as DCCA secretary since 2016, Hunter has 30 years of public service experience and formerly served as a director of the NMI Museum of History and Culture, executive director of the Commonwealth Council for Arts and Culture, and as an arts program manager for the CNMI Public School System.

He is also a former chair of the Northern Marianas Council for the Humanities and a former member of the Pacific Arts Council.

In a statement, he said his goal is to streamline policies and procedures with the governor and lt. governor’s senior staff, as well as ensure efficiency as the government continues to restructure itself due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I am extremely grateful for the trust and support given to me by Governor Torres and Lt. Governor Palacios and for the opportunity to have served as the secretary for DCCA and now as their senior policy advisor.  DCCA has made tremendous strides over the last four years. I am blessed to have been able to have worked with such a great team of people at that department.  I will continue to assist the department and the incoming secretary during the transition, and look forward to the progress at the department continuing under the leadership of the new secretary,” Hunter said.

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