Jan. 5, 2003 – Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's second-term inaugural ceremony on Monday at Emancipation Garden will have the customary pomp that bands and dignitaries provide, but under extraordinary circumstances: accompanied by a public protest directed against the chief executive.
Members of the American Federation of Teachers and other concerned citizens plan to demonstrate to express their outrage at the raises the Senate approved two weeks ago, on the governor's legislation, for him, his lieutenant governor and the senators themselves.
The issue is one on which Turnbull has remained silent since the 24th Legislature took the action at its final session, on Dec. 23, prompting immediate verbal protests throughout the territory.
At an often-volatile meeting on Sunday evening, teachers union members and other concerned community members made plans to protest at the ceremony. Vernelle de Lagarde, AFT president, said the teachers will wear black armbands and carry placards expressing their opposition to the massive raises.
About 50 or 60 teachers and others crowded onto the terrace at Palms Court Harborview Hotel for the 5 p.m. meeting called by the AFT. It was preceded by a meeting of AFT and other union leaders — Daryl George of the firefighters union, Luis "Tito" Morales of the Central Labor Council and Carver Farrow of the Education Administrators Association.
With the exception of George, the union leaders did not commit their members to take part in the planned protest. Morales said the issue is to convince the governor to veto the measure, and that should be the focus of the meeting.
Farrow said he couldn't authorize anything without the backing of his board. He spoke at length of the union negotiation process, remarks which put the audience on edge, most of those present wanting to spend the time making plans for Monday. "I'll try to get $125,000 for my members in 2004," Farrow said, drawing shouts and laughter.
George gave his support to a demonstration, "If we start tomorrow, we start the ball rolling," he said. "We have known this was coming. We are the ones to blame, because we take, take, take." He added, to cheers and applause, "I can see giving the governor a raise up to $90,000 even, but those senators don't deserve a damned dime."
Roi Simmonds, a 29-year educator who teaches social studies at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School, said he is owed retroactive wages from 1991."We are owed $100 million," he said. "We have a judgment against them, and they say we can't get it because they don't have any money. They have money now."
Several teachers expressed frustration that when the AFT takes to the streets demonstrating, it gets little or no support from other unions. Teacher Joan Turnbull told the other labor leaders she had no use for them, "when we are always the ones alone out in front holding the line."
Barbara Isaac, a teacher who will be retiring this year, told the other labor leaders: "We are looking for leaders to give us direction. The AFT is not the only union."
Political activist Stephanie Scott-Williams encouraged everyone to protest. "There are several options," she said. "You can make calls if you can't leave home. If you don't want to be seen, wear a mask. Those of us who are physically willing can turn our backs. We can use every legal and constitutional right."
James Ryan, speaking as a private citizen, said: "I'm a voter, and I have a big concern. No retro for the teachers, potholes in the roads."
"This is my home," he continued, "and there was never a peep before they did it [approved the raises]. They should be recalled."
Erva Denham, president of the League of Women Voters, suggested a long-term solution. "We could put on a referendum that elected officials' raises must be voted on the ballot. And the same goes for bond issues where tax money is used to pay bonds. We have to give the taxpayer some control in how the government spends his money."
Helen Gjessing, another LVW leader, was growing impatient as time passed at the meeting without any action being taken. Marching behind the military parade preceding the inaugural ceremonies on Monday had been suggested. "I make a plea to make a decision on what we are going to do," she said.
An avid and daily swimmer, Gjessing added: "At my age, I probably couldn't march from Cancryn, but I could swim."
De Lagarde said the teachers union members would not march behind the military parade. She asked AFT members and anyone else wanting to join in the protest to assemble at the Coast Guard dock at 10:30 a.m. Monday. The parade is scheduled to step off at 10 a.m., and the swearing-in ceremony at Emancipation Garden is to begin at 11:30 a.m.
Jason Budsan reminded the group that at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, another meeting is scheduled at Palms Court Harborview. Budsan, leader of an ad hoc group of V.I. residents and taxpayers that has taken the name Citizens for a Fiscally Responsible Government, said further actions protesting the raises would be discussed then.
Labor groups on St. Croix also are planning to demonstrate in protest of the raises at the St. Croix inaugural ceremonies on Wednesday.

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