Feb. 11, 2005 After several "sleepless nights," especially for the St. Croix Senators who were away from their own beds this week to attend Senate sessions on St. Thomas, the 26th Legislature voted to confirm the nomination of Col. Eddy Charles to the position of adjutant general of the V.I. National Guard Friday.
Charles' nomination was one of much controversy due to a pending sexual harassment suit filed against him five years ago by a female member of the Guard.
On Monday Charles had cleared the first hurdle to becoming the adjutant general when the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, approved his nomination despite the opposition of three women advocacy group. At that meeting, Senate President Lorraine Berry, the only female senator, was the only one voting against Charles' nomination. (See "Adjutant General Nominee Passes First Senate Hurdle").
Four days later, Charles was in the chambers of the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall once again, this time not to testify, but to await his fate. Once again, he was supported by a troupe of supporters, colleagues from the National Guard.
Many of the senators prefaced their statements with "I have had many sleepless nights" as they commented on Charles' nomination in the allotted three-minute debate time before casting their votes.
"I lost sleep last night around the cloud of doubt surrounding Charles," Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville said. "He was my father's friend. I've known him since I was a child."
Serville said despite this, he could not vote in support of Charles' nomination because he has to vote based on the values he was raised with.
"This is about principles," Serville said. "Society has become complacent. We should be held accountable for ethical and moral issues. That's what leaders do."
Looking directly across the hallway to Charles, "as one leader to another," Serville told Charles he had the "deepest respect for him" but could not support his nomination, even if his stance might "destroy my political career today."
Sen. Neville James said he looked at all the documents, received calls for and against Charles, and he has decided to support Charles' nomination.
"There are women in the audience supporting Col. Charles, and that is good enough for me," James said. "This is a judgment call, and I believe I have made the right call. Something tells me, resonatingly so, that I made a good call where Col. Charles is concerned."
Sen. Ronald Russell, whose law firm brought the lawsuit against Charles in 2000, said he would not vote because it would be a conflict of interest, but that does not mean he could not debate.
"Women in this society have been faced with a lot of uphill battles," Russell said, because of the "male-dominated" society within which we live. He urged his colleagues to do the right thing.
Sen. Craig Barshinger said he "agonized" over the situation and could not support the nomination of Charles because of the "cloud of doubt" surrounding him.
"I must do what is in the best interest of the people of the Virgin Islands," Barshinger said. He added that he would entertain a motion to wait until Charles is cleared before approving him as adjutant general.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste told his colleagues to put away their "cloak of hypocrisy."
"I'm not here to confirm the nomination of a priest to a moral society," Jn Baptiste said. "I'm here to nominate a soldier to a military position."
Jn Baptiste said it was wrong for the legislators to presume that someone is guilty when he has not been found guilty.
"Col. Charles is military to the heart," Berry said. "What I question is the propriety of moving the nominee forward when he is a defendant involved in a sexual harassment suit that has not been adjudicated. It is for that reason that I cannot support Col. Eddy Charles."
Berry said if she has erred in her vote today, she is "erring on the side of women" and will be the first to apologize if proven wrong.
Malone urged his colleagues to support the nomination, saying Charles was best suited to lead the National Guard.
Charles was confirmed with an 8-5 vote. Sens. Roosevelt David, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Usie Richards, Celestino White, James, Jn Baptiste and Malone voted to confirm. Sens. Barshinger, Berry, Serville, Liston Davis and Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg voted against. Russell abstained and Sen. Louis Hill was excused due to a death in his family.
"I pledge to serve the people of these Virgin Islands to the best of my ability, as I am accustomed to," Charles said to the senators after being confirmed.
In other action, the 26th Legislature also voted to approve Ann Gruver Barnard to the Board of Psychology, Caroline Polydore-Simon to the board of directors for WTJX, Public Television and Kenneth Herman to the V.I. Horse Racing Commission.
Molly Morris contributed to this report.
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