Jan. 8, 2003 – Leaders of a new community group being formed around the dispute over hefty pay raises for top elected officials say they will picket Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's State of the Territory Address on Monday, unless he vetoes the provisions for them in legislation now on his desk.
The group, Citizens for Fiscally Responsible Government, has scheduled an open meeting to organize the protest for 5:30 p.m. Friday at Palms Court Harborview Hotel.
Some 20 people showed up at the hotel on Tuesday night for the first meeting of the group. Organizer Jason Budsan said their first act is an invitation to the public to wear black on Monday and join them in a public protest starting at 5:30 p.m. in front of the Legislature Building on St. Thomas, where the governor will deliver his address.
"We are mourning the loss of our rights to get what we want in government," Budsan said after the meeting. Like many others who have voiced opposition to the 24th Legislature approving fat raises for senators, the governor and the lieutenant governor in its final session on Dec. 23, Budson questioned the propriety of doing so when community service entities such as Victim Advocates the V.I. Housing Authority Police go out of business for lack of funding.
Some of those at the Tuesday night meeting urged their fellow attendees not to be intimidated by actions taken by police and the head of the governor's security force during protest demonstrations held during the governor's inauguration on Monday in Emancipation Garden. A demonstrating member of the American Federation of Teachers local union and husband were manhandled by police and taken into custody, and four placard carriers were forced to leave the garden.
Charges of aggravated assault and battery are now pending against the teacher, Yvonne Freeman.
"Because we are such a close-knit community, we are all tied into the government, and taking part in an action like this might leave us feeling threatened in some way," Budsan said.
In preparation for the Monday protest, organizers say they have already spoken with Deputy Police Chief Theodore Carty to obtain guidelines for conducting a sanctioned demonstration.
Among the people planning to take part in Monday's demonstration is Erva Denham, president of the League of Women Voters, who said she would be watching the actions taken by protestors on St. Croix at post-inauguration ceremonies set for Wednesday noon. "What happened [Monday] was an outrage," she said Tuesday night after the citizens group meeting.
Members of the new group say they are working with a member of the incoming 25th Legislature, which takes office on Monday, in an effort to persuade the governor to veto the salary hikes. Budsan said he is hoping Turnbull will agree to a meeting this week to hear the group's concerns and that the governor will relent and save himself the potential embarrassment of facing protesters as he goes to deliver his State of the Territory address.
Citizens for Fiscally Responsible Government will sponsor the demonstration outside the Legislature Building on Monday, "provided the governor has not vetoed sections 48 and 49 of Bill No. 24-307," a release from the group on Wednesday stated. By law, Turnbull must act on the legislation by midnight Tuesday, or it will become law without his signature.
Meanwhile, the group also is considering some long-range strategies. Denham said she would like a chance to examine the V.I. Code in search of ways to require the government to put future wage increases for top officials and bond issues before the voters as ballot initiatives. "It's time for us to take more control of our taxpayer dollars," she said.

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