April 8, 2003 – A bill to create a long-awaited semi-autonomous Tourism Authority to replace the government-run Tourism Department won approval with some changes in the Senate Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Committee on Tuesday.
At a committee hearing, business leaders objected strongly to a provision of the bill making five of the authority board's nine members ex-officio administrative officials — the Office of Management and Budget director, Port Authority executive director, West Indian Co. chief executive, Economic Development Authority chief executive, and Planning and Natural Resources commissioner.
The bill calls for the other four members also to be appointed by the governor but to be "recommended" by the chambers of commerce and hotel associations in the territory's two districts.
Frank Fox, St. Croix Chamber of Commerce president, said that as long as the governor controls the board, "the Tourism Authority will remain a 'government department' with only a new name."
Cassan Pancham, St. Thomas-St. John Chamber president, made the same point: "I don't want to see us create another Department of Tourism," he said. "Let's create an authority and give it the power to do its job."
As the administrative branch changes with the elections, Pancham said, the authority could become a revolving door for the governor's appointees and have a negative impact on the authority's goals.
Sen. Luther Renee, the committee chair, agreed. "If the majority of the public-sector compilation changes, a predominantly private-sector majority will at least ensure continuity," he said.
After several hours of testimony, the committee amended the bill to drop the OMB and DPNR ex-officio positions and give those seats on the authority board to the taxi industry in each district.
All board members, nonetheless, would be named by the governor, and those representing the private sector would require Senate confirmation.
Renee predicted that there could be some resistance from the administrative branch to the changes made in committee to the bill. The 24th Legislature in its first year passed legislation creating a tourism authority with a private-sector majority. Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed it.
After that, Turnbull by executive decree created a "Tourism Advisory Board" and announced that he had named the executive directors of the chambers and hotel associations to represent the private sector on it. However, all four business entities declined to be a part of the board. (See "Business leaders reject advisory committee".) Although the governor eventually named four other business people as members, the "advisory board" never accomplished anything that became public information.
Renee noted on Tuesday that the measure before the Legislature now "looks as though it has support across the majority and minority lines." The 25th Legislature has 10 majority members. Support by 10 or more lawmakers would make the bill veto-proof.
The Tourism Authority would be tasked by law with creating a comprehensive tourism plan for the next five years. The bill also appropriates $13 million from the General Fund to help fund the authority through 2007.
Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards testified on Tuesday only that she had not been furnished with a copy of the bill. Two years ago, after the Senate approved the earlier measure but before Turnbull vetoed it, she spoke out in opposition to the idea of a Tourism Authority.
The bill as amended passed the committee unanimously. Committee members presenting and voting were Sens. Lorraine Berry, Douglas Canton, Roosevelt David, Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Renee. Sens. Emmett Hansen II and Celestino A. White Sr. were absent. Also present at the hearing were Sens. Raymond "Usie" Richards, Louis Hill and Norman Jn Baptiste, who are not members of the committee.

Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here