Home News Local news JN. BAPTISTE AND SIMMONDS SPAR AT HEARING

JN. BAPTISTE AND SIMMONDS SPAR AT HEARING

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Sept. 22, 2001 — The row between the chair of the Senate Education Committee and the commissioner of Education continued in public Friday in the legislative chambers in Frederiksted.
In a letter earlier this week, Sen. Norman Jn. Baptiste castigated Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds for refusing to attend his Education Committee hearing on Friday. Simmonds said that, according to a policy laid out by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull in an Aug. 1 letter to Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd, the senator needed to write to the governor to request her presence. She said Jn. Baptiste failed to do so.
Jn. Baptiste, however, intimated that Simmonds’ decision not to attend had more to do with her mismanagement of the department, particularly the way emergency school repairs were contracted out in the summer of 2000. Simmonds did attend the hearing, but only after Jn. Baptiste subpoenaed her. For background on the matter, see the Aug. 17 Source story "Billing for school repairs under investigation".
During Friday's hearing, Jn. Baptiste cited several examples of what he termed questionable costs relating to the school repairs. One was an instance of a single ceiling tile costing hundreds of dollars. And, he said, contractor invoices for fluorescent lights and fixtures listed huge discrepancies in costs. He said one work order had a cost for lights at $325 each, but that was later changed to $200 each.
"I’m just showing the kinds of craziness we’re dealing with," he said.
Simmonds responded that during the summer of 2000, the governor had declared a state of emergency in education in order to expedite repairs. Some 15 contractors were hired and led by the Public Works Department, she said.
Randolph Valdemar, Property and Procurement assistant commissioner, said that, at the time, everyone involved was pressured to get 15 to 20 schools ready to open.
"A contract is a meeting of the minds," he said. "It’s also a fluid document, which means changes are made as you go along."
As the proceeding started, Jn. Baptiste said he felt something "under cover" was happening.
Simmonds' response was: "Let me make it crystal clear to you, senator, and to everybody else, that I … have nothing to hide."

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