Feb. 7, 2005 The Senate Rules Committee approved the nomination of Col. Eddy Charles for the position of adjutant general Monday, after heated debate and despite the opposition of three women advocacy groups.
Charles, whose nomination had been handed down to the Senate for confirmation by Gov. Charles Turnbull last month, was the center of controversy because of a pending sexual harassment suit against him by a female member of the V.I. National Guard. His nomination will now go before the full Senate.
The acting adjutant general has served in the National Guard since 1976 and is a decorated officer. Charles has also served as head of the Law Enforcement Planning Commission and as the drug policy advisor to the governor.
"I am humbled, yet honored, by the governor's selection, and being very much aware of the significant challenges ahead, especially the road blocks already in action, I have prepared for a gradual change process with the employees of all three branches comprising the V.I. National Guard, [V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency] and the newly legislated office of homeland security," Charles said.
In giving his testimony, Charles said he has been mentored by several former adjutants general and he has prepared himself "physically, academically, technically, tactically, emotionally and spiritually for this opportunity."
Charles informed the committee of actions he has undertaken since he began serving as acting adjutant general Jan. 3. These included addressing staff concerns and "fulfilling long-awaited actions on promotions of senior non-commissioned officers of the army," which he did in ceremonies on both St. Thomas and St. Croix this past weekend.
"These are immediate morale boosting personnel actions that create a chain of positive movements in the respective commands," Charles said.
While all of the senators present said they were "impressed" with Charles' qualifications and his achievements, many of their questions surrounded not his ability to serve as adjutant general, but rather the allegations of sexual harassment against him.
Representatives of The Safety Zone, the Women's Coalition of St. Croix and the V.I. Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council all testified in opposition of Charles' nomination. Two female members of the National Guard testified in support of the nomination.
"We believe that the governor is performing a disservice to every woman in the Virgin Islands by moving forward with this recommendation," Iris Kern, executive director of the Safety Zone, said.
Kern added that "irrespective of Col. Charles' guilt or innocence " of the charges, placing someone who has been found guilty of retaliation in charge of the entire National Guard is a "threat to every female member" of the guard.
"This is not the first nomination the governor has made of men whose behavior is under a cloud of suspicion," Kern said, making reference to the nomination of the current police commissioner. "We cannot believe that the Virgin Islands does not have outstanding candidates for this and every position whose behavior is not thus clouded."
Kern said the first step in violence toward women is sexual harassment and therefore it should not be tolerated.
"We realize it is difficult to ask a Senate consisting of 14 men and only one woman to do the right thing," Kern said, pleading with senators to not rush their decision, but rather read through the totality of the legal documentation regarding Charles and the allegations brought against him.
Kern added, "If, after doing so, you can in good conscience vote yes on this nomination, so be it."
Clema Lewis, co-director of the Women's Coalition of St. Croix, also opposed Charles' nomination. Lewis told the committee that the organization had received "numerous calls" in opposition to Charles' nomination.
"This is the highest position in the V.I. National Guard, and as such, should be awarded to a person with extremely high morals," Lewis said. "For this reason alone, someone with a lack of credibility should not be considered for this position."
Lynn Spencer, executive director of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council, said Charles "failed" as head of the LEPC to properly administer STOP Violence Against Women Act funds. Spencer said during Charles' tenure improper use of funds resulted in the "increasing abuses of girls and women here in the territory."
Lynn said, "These things have occurred over the years because LEPC has not done the work to hold government agencies accountable for the use or failure to use the available funding. Although Col. Charles is certainly not the only agency head responsible for the failure to protect girls and women, he certainly was placed in a unique position to influence and implement both policy and programming to accomplish the purposes of the legislation under the territory's plan and to ensure creation of a functional coordinated response. That has not happened under his watch."
Charles said when he took over the LEPC in January of 2002, "I found an organization heading in the wrong direction. It had to be righted."
Charles said the allotment to LEPC had been decreasing because of the failure of grant recipients this includes the justice and police departments and various advocacy groups for women had failed to utilize all of the funding in prior years.
"Money has sat in those agencies, which LEPC is supposed to be monitoring," Charles said, adding agencies such as the justice department would have grant monies unused because of its inability to hire attorneys for domestic violence issues in a timely manner.
Capt. Geraldine Vaval and Capt. Maurice James, a National Guard judge advocate, both testified in support of Charles' nomination. Also, a letter from former fire chief Roberto Santos Sr. and a letter from Charles ex-wife were read into the record.
Vaval said she would like to respond to Lewis' question about how a woman in the guard would feel knowing her boss has a cloud over his head.
"First, I find that it is very hypocritical and offensive that an organization such as the Women's Coalition would be in opposition to this nomination for allegations that occurred approximately six years ago and has been very silent publicly with respect to similar allegations made recently because in their opinion the recent allegations occurred in St. Thomas, so St. Thomas should deal with it," Vaval said.
Vaval said that since Charles has begun serving as acting adjutant general, things have changed for the better.
"There is no one currently serving in the National Guard more qualified than Col. Charles, has more military experience than Col. Charles, has more education than Col. Charles, and who will do a better job than Col. Charles as the adjutant general," Vaval said. "The V.I. National Guard does not want Col. Charles to be the adjutant general. The V.I. National Guard needs Col. Charles to be the next adjutant general of the Virgin Islands."
James said she took offense to comments by one of the advocacy groups that sexual harassment is prevalent in the National Guard.
"We presently have two cases pending in District Court," James said.
James said that every soldier she has spoken with has told her that Charles is "best prepared" for the job and she, personally, has never feel threatened by Charles.
James said a state adjutant general can be appointed and not be federally recognized, as was the case with former Adjutant General Cleave McBean. She added Charles has an opportunity for federal recognition if approved by the Senate.
"I don't believe in perpetual punishment," James said, adding Charles has already received punishment for his alleged actions. Charles was removed from hi
s position as chief of staff of the National Guard.
"We have all made mistakes, and we need to hold up the mirror sometimes," James said, giving examples of "great" leaders like Winston Churchill whose past were sometimes questionable.
Sen. Lorraine Berry said, "I listened intently to what has gone on here this morning, and both sides have something to offer."
Berry asked Charles how he felt about sexual harassment in the workplace.
"In the workplace and anywhere there should be zero tolerance," Charles said.
Sen. Usie Richards, who had also been accused of sexual harassment, said, "I didn't realize we had so much in common."
Richards told Kerns he took offense to her statements concerning the Senate's make up of 14 men and one woman.
Richards also read into the record a letter from Charles' ex-wife Marilyn, commending him on his professionalism and being there for his family.
Sen. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion told Charles the committee is only here to deem whether he was qualified for the position and were not in the capacity to judge.
"Col. Charles, there is no question as to your education and military background that you are one of the best qualified," Encarnacion said, adding the court would decide Charles' fate as per the allegations brought against him.
Sen. Terrence Nelson said it was hard for him to sit there and make a decision when there are concerns that are "outside the jurisdiction of this body."
Russell, who had said he would recuse himself from the vote on Charles' nomination, had much to say during the session although he did not question Charles directly.
"When a nominee comes before you, you've got to ask some questions," Russell told his colleagues. "Allow this process to be fair. We're supposed to scrutinize everybody that comes in here."
Russell told his colleagues that they needed to consider women seriously when they brought forth allegations and they should be treated as equals in the workplace.
"The women in this community matter just as much as the men," Russell said.
Sen. Liston Davis told Charles, "You're problem is a matter of perception. Until the allegations have been cleared up, you will always have a cloud hanging over you."
Sen. White, saying that he had to bring things to the surface, questioned Charles about various aspects in his past, including a report of Charles having a child with another National Guard employee in 1979 and an alleged knifing incident that was dismissed in court.
White told Charles he did not appreciate statements on his questionnaire that the allegations were brought against him because some did not want him to be in the adjutant general position because of his place of origin. Charles is a native of Dominica.
"Do you really believe that?" White asked.
Much discussion also surrounded the definition of sexual harassment.
"Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual pressure," Spencer said in response to a question from Russell.
James said the individual who feels harassed has a responsibility to inform the harasser.
"How would I know that I offend you if you do not tell me?" James said. He added sexual harassment must also interfere with one's ability to work. Nelson spoke of the recent rise in sexual harassment cases saying that some women make it difficult for men. He added that jokes of a sexual nature and sexual innuendos occur frequently in many work settings.
"Flirtations are almost normal," Nelson said, because of the nature of men and women, though it may not always be right.
Berry told her colleagues that she felt the body should hold Charles' nomination until the court case is resolved. However, her colleagues did not agree to Berry's suggestion.
"It is OK to hold your nomination because there is a court case pending," Sen. Louis Hill told Charles.
Sen. Roosevelt David asked, "Why do we have to wait for the courts? Are we not an independent body?"
David asked Charles if he was ready to lead.
"Yes, I am, senator," Charles replied.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, chairman of the Rules Committee told Charles, "I have full confidence in your abilities."
The committee voted 5-1 to approve Charles' nomination and forward it to the full body with a favorable recommendation. Sens. Malone, Encarnacion, Nelson, Richards and White voted in the affirmative. Berry cast the lone vote against the nomination. Russell did not vote. His law firm represents the woman who had made brought the charges against Charles. (See "Cloud of Sexual Harassment Hangs Over Senate Again").
Upon hearing of the committee's decision, Turnbull thanked the senators for giving his nominee a favorable recommendation.
"I once more reiterate my full confidence in Col. Charles," Turnbull said Monday in a Goverment House release. "Everything taken into consideration, he is by far the best qualified person to lead the V.I. National Guard at this critical point in time for our nation and our territory."
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