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PEOPLE’S MARCH ORGANIZERS WANT LEADERS TO LISTEN

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Participants in the People’s March commanded an audience with the Senate Finance Committee in Frederiksted on Sept. 9, but now members say most legislators are trying to avoid them.
In a press conference Friday at the Penthouse Rooftop, People’s March committee members said they are disappointed with the way the majority of senators have responded to the organization’s requests for participation in scheduled "town meetings."
In attendance Friday were Paul "The General" Payne, Raymond "Usie" Richards, Sharon Petersen and Valmy Thomas. Sen. Adelbert Bryan was in attendance but didn’t participate.
Several senators said during the Sept. 9 meeting that they would be willing to meet and work with the organization. At that meeting hundreds of marchers walked through Frederiksted to the Legislature.
The People’s March was organized to protest the Beal-V.I. government land exchange at Great Pond Bay, Gov. Charles Turnbull’s proposal to cut government departments by 15 percent and a lack of accountability in government overall. Organizers also want full financial disclosure from the West Indian Company Ltd. and the Public Finance Authority.
At the September gathering of the Finance Committee the organization requested that a meeting with elected officials be held within 30 days, said People’s March spokesman Richards. A letter informing senators of the town meeting was also sent out.
But more than a month later the town meeting hasn’t happened. Although a meeting scheduled for Oct. 22 was postponed because of Hurricane Jose, only two or three senators had responded that they would be attending.
"The People’s March has been very patient," Richards said. "We’ve been waiting 30 days since Sept. 9. To date none of them (senators) have issued a written response."
A rescheduled town meeting for Nov. 1 has also been postponed because of a meeting scheduled for the same day involving Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, Director of Insular Affairs for the V.I. Danny Aranza, Delegate Donna Christian Christensen, Turnbull and V.I. senators. The federal officials will be on St. Croix for a Coral Reef Task Force Conference on Nov. 2 and 3.
Richards said the People’s March Committee felt its town meeting has been snubbed again in a "willful act" by local politicians.
"It is clear to us that some … concerted action was taken to divert attention" of the senators, Richards said. "It is our opinion and our belief that these individuals are unwilling to be full participants in the democratic process."
Richards said that since the Nov. 1 town meeting won’t be happening, People’s March members will go to the Henry E. Rohlsen airport instead and greet participants of the Coral Reef Conference as they arrive, including Babbitt. Richards said the organization has concerns with the memorandum of understanding signed by Babbitt and Turnbull earlier in October.
Richards said it is the People’s March intention to let Babbitt know they are not pleased with the memorandum. The memorandum includes exchanging interests in land, including submerged lands and coral reefs, under federal and local government jurisdiction.
But because the governor has supported the Beal Aerospace land exchange and the memorandum calls for preserving natural and cultural resources, Richards called Turnbull’s actions "hypocritical."
"We believe it’s hypocritical of the governor … to enter into the MOU" and then transfer the trust at Estate Great Pond, Richards said. "We’d like to sound the alarm: The governor should not be giving away properties that belong to the Virgin Islands."

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