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SYSTEM FAILURES ARE EVERYBODY'S FAULT

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Dear Source,
Obviously I have missed too much of the history of this island to be able to understand why persons in positions of responsibility here repeatedly are unwilling to accept advice and learn from others' expertise and experience with a little humility, rather than wait until the dam breaks and they are totally humiliated by the abject failure of the educational system, the tourism contract with Carnival, the power system, the sewage system, the justice system, the airport vs. solid waste system, and the legislature's organizational system.
To my further dismay, I realize that the "others" they refuse to listen to are not outsiders, but committed residents of the community, persons with a stake in what happens here. We would rather spend big money paying IBM for a second-rate tourism web site than contract with our own resident experts. We would rather bring in advertising firms who are complete strangers to the islands than use our very talented local professionals.
We would rather stagger along instead of following an extensively thorough five-year plan that the cream of the community spent many volunteer hours developing.
We would rather find some obscure Texas educator friend of President Bush and the developers of Botany Bay to drop in for a quick consultation of an educational system that will be such an enigma to him that only years of submersion could make his advice worth while. In the meantime, in clandestine meetings in a small room of a hotel on a congested western hill, local educational experts have been discussing ways to improve the system for years, with no one listening.
It seems that we feel we deserve dismal classrooms without supplies, mediocre library services, inadequate public transportation, lousy roads, irrational politicians, polluted waters and incredibly slow and secretive responses from our public officials. Did we do something we need to be punished for? Do we not know that better is possible, even normal? Are we, like children, just being contrary for the sake of establishing our power and independence? Maybe we think the negatives are necessary to balance the incredible beauty of the environment and the people.
For whatever reasons, it is obvious that we are willing to live with our failures. We are convinced that it would be far worse to change our ways. It would be just too painful to acknowledge that solutions and suggestions might have some validity. It would be excruciating to come together in real dialogue to make constructive plans without exposing claws to defend persons and present policies. Somewhere deep in our beings, we like things this way.
We are all guilty of the failures of our systems. We allowed them to happen. We refuse to rock the boat, to demand accountability, to call for responsible government and controlled and prioritized expenditures of funds. We did not listen to the cries of our children and teachers or the apparently too-gentle prodding of the Middle States Association. We failed to respond to the concerns of our tourism contractors. We continually fail to hear the warnings from Washington.
We talk a good game. Every taxi driver, business executive, construction worker, talk-show host and barker solves our worst problems in animated conversation on a daily basis. But the courage and perseverance to challenge the powers to do what they should be doing? That's too much. It takes a degree of fervor and rage that we can't muster here where the winds blow gently and the sun shines so warm. (I'll pretend I never saw the animated energy and highly creative and complex organization that makes Carnival possible.)
This is an extremely talented community with experiences and wisdom gleaned from all over the world. In addition to which we have the vast resource of the native sons and daughters who have gone into the bigger world and would love to come home, if we had meaningful positions with adequate pay to offer them.
Instead, we continue to drag out the old guard and all their cronies who were adequate 40 years ago when the needs and problems of these islands were quite different. So we are stuck with power players who are so busy digging out their niches that they don't use their shovels to make constructive progress.
These familiar, mostly well-meaning persons are not leaders but rather are reactors, and slow ones at that. After the schools are no longer accredited, the sewage is floating in the bay, the airport is closed, the fish are dead and the ships have gone away, they will be repeating in muddled dismay, "Mistakes were made, mistakes were made."
Carol Lotz
St. Thomas

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