April 17, 2002 – Taking aim for the second straight day at Water and Power Authority Executive Director Joseph Thomas, senators let fly threats and personal attacks Wednesday over his refusal to show up for Senate Finance Committee hearings on WAPA's finances.
A Tuesday hearing on St. Croix was attended by Carol Burke, chair of the WAPA governing board, but not by Thomas or any of six other top WAPA executives who had been "invited" to testify. (See "Senators vote to subpoena absent WAPA execs".)
On Wednesday evening, with the same invitations extended, no one from the utility's executive ranks appeared for hearing with the same agenda on St. Thomas.
The committee chair, Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, said at Wednesday's session that Thomas did not appear willing to cooperate with the Legislature. "He's not going to change," she said. She noted that the Finance Committee had voted on Tuesday to subpoena Thomas and the other missing WAPA managers to appear before them on May 7 and 8.
Thomas, reached earlier in the day Wednesday, said that Hansen had been informed that no WAPA executives would attend either hearing. "We wrote a letter," he said, telling Hansen that the timing of the invitation to testify was too short and the requested information could not be compiled in time for the hearings.
Thomas said he is disturbed by the "base comments" from senators concerning purchases he allegedly made in outfitting a condominium rented on St. Croix for use by WAPA executives who live on St. Thomas but frequently travel to St. Croix on company matters.
An accusation made by Hansen Tuesday that Thomas used WAPA funds to purchase what Hansen called "protection" "for him to go to bed" did not appear to be reflected in copies of receipts from several St. Croix stores that were part of a packet of receipts and other documents circulated to the media two weeks ago by Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel.
"I think the thing that bothers me the most is how personal these things can get," Thomas said. He said the "smear tactics" and "personal attacks" are difficult on more than just the targeted victim. "I wonder if they know how hard these things are on the families," he said.
Thomas said none of the allegations made at the Tuesday hearing on St. Croix had any merit. "There isn't a single thing that was brought up at the hearing that we feel was inappropriate," he said.
Four WAPA rank-and-file employees appeared in the Legislature to offer testimony Wednesday night. Hubert Turnbull, president of the in-house union, the WAPA Employees Association, said recent problems within the authority are not related to specific issues. "It's not a matter of grievances," he said. "It's a matter of simple respect."
The employees said Thomas is not in touch with the rank and file and brought up complaints about what they termed inadequate pay scales and an ongoing fight over early retirement for certain hazardous-duty employees.
Senators used the opportunity to air their dislike of Thomas. Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel said she hopes that Thomas does not respond to the subpoena to appear in before the Finance Committee May 7 and 8. "I want the police to arrest him and put him in one of those jail cells," she said. "That's where I think he belongs."
Sen. Carlton Dowe said he felt sure that Thomas would appear at the May 7 hearing but added, "I suspect he will have an American Airlines ticket in his pocket."
Hansen and Pickard-Samuel have shown dislike for Thomas since his first appearance before the Finance Committee nearly a year ago. He began work as WAPA's chief executive the second week of May 2001 and was grilled at length by the two senators when he appeared at a hearing on May 15. They questioned him about what he planned to do in the Virgin Islands, sometimes giving him no opportunity to reply. At one point, Pickard-Samuel told him she didn't think he belonged on St. Thomas in the capacity of WAPA administrator.
On Wednesday night, Hansen said: "We are going to find a way to get rid of Mr. Thomas. He has to go."
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