July 6, 2001 – After sitting in the legislative chambers since morning, Craig Barshinger, nominee for the Economic Development Authority board, learned around 3 p.m. Thursday that the Senate had sent his nomination back to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, along with that of fellow EDA nominee Ronald Belfon.
Belfon didn't hear the news in person. Although he also had been at the Legislature Building on St. Thomas all morning, he had to leave earlier in the afternoon.
The two had been waiting to appear at Thursday's meeting of the Senate Rules Committee. However, before the afternoon session began, all committee members and legal counsel were called to the Senate president's office for a meeting.
When the committee reconvened, Sen. Adelbert Bryan made, and the committee unanimously approved, a motion to return the nominations to the governor because they were not clear on two points:
– Whether the position of Randolph Allen, a member of the former Industrial Development Commission, which has been succeeded by the EDA, had been "grandfathered" into a seat on the new EDA board.
– And, if so, what should be done about two nominees when there is only one vacancy to be filled.
Under a government reorganization act passed by the 23rd Legislature, the IDC was changed to the EDA, removed from the Tourism Department and placed within the new Economic Development Authority.
Rules Committee members said Allen had written to each of them stating that he was still a commission member.
Bryan requested an opinion from Yvonne Tharpes, legislative legal counsel. Tharpes said that if Allen is still serving, the law protects him. She said, "The only thing I can say clearly is that any member that was serving before is not required to come to the Legislature again."
Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd said only the governor can make that determination. He said the committee would return the nominations to the governor and ask for a clarification.
Former St. Croix board member Mary Ann Pickard was appointed by the governor to the EDA without a hearing.
The EDA comprises seven members – four from V.I. government agencies plus one private-sector member from each island. With Pickard presumably representing St. Croix, it was apparently the governor's intention to have Belfon represent St. Thomas and Barshinger, St. John. Allen is a St. Thomas resident.
The government commission members are Dean Plaskett, Planning and Natural Resources commissioner; Willis Todman, Government Employees Retirement System assistant administrator; Louis Willis, Internal Revenue Bureau director; and Kent Bernier, the governor's economic adviser. According to Nadine Marchena, Economic Development Commission administrator, the EDA board does not yet have a legal counsel.
Marchena attended the hearing but declined to comment on the conflict. After the hearing, Barshinger said while he was disappointed at the day's outcome, the legislation establishing the EDA was "untidy," with "ambiguities and loopholes that allow this sort of thing to happen." Had the possible discrepancy been discovered earlier, he noted, it could have been resolved before the hearing.
Government House spokeswoman Rina McBrowne said Friday that the matter has been referred to the Attorney General's Office for an opinion.
Later Thursday afternoon, after three hours of deliberation, the committee unanimously approved the nomination of Ian Williams as director of Fire Services. Williams a 20-year firefighting veteran, has been acting director since March, when former director Pedro Encarnacion retired.
Willliams told the senators what they had heard before from Fire Services officials. He lamented the lack of manpower in the department, citing that as the reason that the Dorthea and Fortuna fire stations on St. Thomas and the Cotton Valley station on St. Croix remain closed. He said recruitment needs will be addressed in the governor's Fiscal Year 2002 budget.
Fire Services officials also detailed other problems, including numerous resignations and retirements in the department. Williams said another important need is to replace 10 fire trucks that are 10 years old. New ones will cost $160,000 each, he said.
In other action, the committee approved an amended version of Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste's controversial teacher recruitment "sin tax" bill. As Jn Baptiste proposed it, the measure would have been funded from new taxes on alcohol, luxury cars, firearms and cigarettes.
However, Rules approved the measure after removing the "sin taxes" provision. The amended version leaves funding ambiguous — it would come from federal grants, gifts or any money appropriated by the Legislature. Jn Baptiste had said earlier he was amenable to a change in the funding. The bill creates a Teacher Recruitment and Training Fund.
The committee also approved another bill sponsored by Jn Baptiste, to require the Board of Education to conduct annual assessments of the territory's public school facilities and guidance services.
A resolution by Sen. Emmett Hansen II to honor Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity for its dedication and commitment in establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. monument on the mall in Washington, D.C., was passed easily.
Attending the meeting were committee members Bryan, Dowe, Jn Baptiste, Liburd, Donald "Ducks" Cole, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Norma Pickard-Samuel and Celestino White. Non-members Sens. Emmett Hansen II and Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg also were present.


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