Dec. 9, 2004 The nearly 75 people gathered at the Legislature building on St. John to hear what Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone had to say on the planned March 2006 Constitutional Convention waited … and waited … and waited some more for him to show up.
Malone finally appeared two hours late. He said he had to find a doctor for a friend with dengue fever.
The meeting was called by the Island Council Planning Committee, an arm of the St. John Community Foundation.
Meanwhile, those waiting discussed the committee's efforts to forge a plan for an island council although it wasn't what was planned for the meeting.
A handful of very vocal residents took issue with the committee's efforts, claiming they were excluded from the process.
Initially, the committee planned to create a draft document to present to the community. However, after two hours of discussion, and just as Malone arrived, Sen.-Elect Craig Barshinger asked if the draft document could be scrapped. Nearly everyone raised a hand in support. It remains unclear how the project will proceed.
Barshinger is a member of the St. John community and took the lead in the meeting in Malone's absence.
Much of the discussion came from native and Caribbean-born residents who appear upset at the swift changes taking place on St. John.
"The bottom line is we have some racial problems," Monique Matthias said.
Grasshopper Pickering added the local people were starting to get riled up.
"It's getting to the point where anything can happen. We'll pick up arms and fight you," he said, adding that a similar situation led to the Fountain Valley massacre on St. Croix in 1972.
Matthias said the vacation villas have advertising cards only for restaurants like the Lime Inn, owned by mainland transplants.
"There's no card for Uncle Joe's Barbecue," she said.
Pickering said that local people can't get jobs in restaurants and shops.
Matthias went on to complain that "you come here and try to change." She complained that such people don't say hello to her on the street.
Another woman said that people rent only to those who come for six months.
Anetha Barton said she was fined for having a business without a license and couldn't find a "little booth" where she could sell her baskets.
"How do you get an opportunity when the rents are $5,000 or $6,000 a month?" she said.
Another woman suggested that laws be passed to protect natives.
"We deserve something in our own home," a woman added.
That prompted a heated discussion on what constituted a "native." A woman claimed that it should be only people whose family had roots in St. John even if they were born elsewhere. A woman who said she was born in St. Lucia observed that she had lived on St. John for years, her children were born here and that made her a Virgin Islander.
"This is home to me," she said.
Dr. Joseph DeJames stood up in favor of an island council.
"The present system isn't doing anything for us," he said.
A discussion on who would get to vote on whether to start from scratch on an island council plan segued into a discussion on voting in general. This prompted one man to point out that if he moved to the states, he would soon be able to vote where he was living.
As for the constitutional convention issue, St. Thomas resident Gaylord Sprauve said he favored voting on status first. That issue was addressed twice, with none of the options getting the requisite 50 percent plus one of registered voters. The options were statehood, incorporated territory, free association, independence, commonwealth, compact of federal relations or the status quo. The territory currently holds unincorporated territory status.
Malone said there were too many options.
Sprauve said that while he preferred voting on status first, he thought it would be easier to get a constitution approved first.
Malone said that in 1982, a constitutional convention convened. The U.S. Congress ratified it, but Virgin Islands voters failed to give their approval.
"And the 1982 constitution allowed for municipal government," Malone said.
For a history of constitutional convention efforts in the history of the Virgin Islands click here.
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