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Response Mixed on Municipal Government


Sept. 14, 2005 – When Sen. Ronald Russell introduced a bill Wednesday night that could move the capital of the Virgin Islands to St. Croix, he said, "This is not a St. Croix versus St. Thomas issue."
He said, "This would benefit the whole territory."
His position is that the moving of the seat of government from Charlotte Amalie would alleviate the traffic problem on St. Thomas and free up more space to be dedicated to tourist attractions on that island, He said about St. Croix, "We have the space here."
He introduced the bill at a Rules and Judiciary Committee hearing called to gather comments on bills, sponsored by Senate President Lorraine Berry that could bring municipal government to the Virgin Islands and would lower the threshold for citizens to force referendums in the territory.
Critics of Berry's measures, Sen. Usie Richards, former Sen. Virdin Browne and concerned citizen Carl Christopher seemed to agree that it was appropriate that Russell's bill should go along with Berry's bill and they could all go along together to the waste basket.
Their criticism rested on the premise that residents needed to take their future in their own hands and quit petitioning the U.S. Congress. Richards said, "The Congress is sick and tired of its possessions asking to change this or change that."
The critics see all these issues being addressed in a new constitution. A constitutional convention is proposed for the beginning of next year. Richards has advocated the adopting of the Organic Act of 1954 as the constitution. Richards admitted, "I am not in love with the Organic Act." However, he described its adoption as a step the Virgin Islands should take to become more independent of the United States.
However, Richards, Brown and Christopher were clearly in the minority. Five of the seven testifiers at the hearing spoke in favor of establishing some form of municipal government in the Virgin Islands.
Former Sen. Arnold M. Golden has been arguing for municipal government ever since he came home from the Korean War in 1954. That is the year that municipal government was dissolved in the Virgin Islands and the Organic Act of 1954 was adopted. He said in 1954 there were 12,000 people on St. Croix and 12,000 people on St. Thomas and, "Times have changed since then. We have to change."
He admitted to not knowing all the specifics about why the previous form of government was dissolved and the present system adopted in 1954, however, he ventured, "I know the Organic Act of 1936 was written on St. Croix and I think the Organic Act of 1954 was written on St. Thomas."
He submitted to the senators a letter written by the Committee for Local Government, of which he was a member, in 1989.
The letter said that a municipal government would be "more responsive" to residents.
The letter said municipal government's strength came from "local decisions made at the local level."
The letter was signed by Golden, Jean-Robert Alfred, Delroy Franklin, Phillip Gerald, Judge Antoine Joseph, Robert Merwin and James Savage.
The letter also said, "The committee supports the maintenance of the seat of the territorial government in Charlotte Amalie."
However, Wednesday night Arnold said, "That was written in 1989." He added that he agreed now with the comments Russell made in support of moving the capital to St. Croix.
Dr. Cora Christensen also spoke in favor of municipal government. She said, "Once we had it and from memory, that of institutions and individuals, I am told it worked."
She said municipal government encourages responsible government and helps prevent residents from "being short changed after the election."
She also emphasized that cities across the United States have municipal governments and that helps them be successful and progressive.
Christopher said he was concerned about municipal government because of a situation like that on St. John presently. (Some residents have said recent incidents on that island signify a sort of race war). He also said that he did not think the Virgin Islands should use the United States as a model. He said the United States was not spreading Democracy it was spreading "demonocracy."
Berry's bill would not actually establish municipal government. It would establish a Municipal Charter Commission. This commission would create drafts of municipal charters for all three islands. Then referendums would be held on each island to determine whether the drafts were acceptable. Berry said, "In the end, no matter what the senate does, the people will have the final say."
Browne was also critical about what he called the practical aspects of creating a municipal government. He asked, "If there are added costs, who is going to pay them?"
Richards' criticism of the bills was wide-ranging and at times hard to follow. He said that he wondered if journalists did any research at all when they said in editorials that the V.I. senators were well paid. He said each V.I. senator does the work of several elected officials in the states.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, Committee on Rules and Judiciary chairman, noted that in Frederiksted that evening there was a public meeting concerning the proposed restoration of Frederiksted's ball field, carnival grounds, and north beach. He said that may have contributed to a low turnout of residents, but he did not want to cancel the hearing because it had already been postponed once.
Richards, Berry, Russell, Figueroa-Serville, and Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion attended the meeting. Sens. Celestino White and Terrence "Positive" Nelson were absent.

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