Oct. 27, 2005The election of Alric Simmonds as chair of the Public Services Commission board is against the law, according to Lisa Harris-Moorhead, legal counsel for the legislature. In a letter written to senators at a Rules and Judiciary Committee meeting held Thursday, Harris-Moorhead stated individuals serving on V.I. boards and commissions must first be confirmed by the Legislature, which Simmonds was not.
Simmonds was elected to the position at a PSC board meeting held Wednesday.
Simmonds first appeared before the Rules Committee in early August when Gov. Charles W. Turnbull sent down his re-nomination to the board. At the time, Harris-Moorhead said, Simmonds was not a legal member of the PSC, since his term on the board had recently expired.
At the August meeting, Simmonds was under fire as senators questioned him on his dual role as a commissioner on the PSC board and the governor's deputy chief of staff. Since the PSC has the authority to vote on important issuessuch as the regulation of utility ratessenators felt Simmonds might be pressured by Turnbull to vote a particular way.
Senators further stated Maria Tankenson Hodge, former legal counsel for the PSC, had spoken out against Simmonds. In response, Simmonds said Tankenson Hodge was just "displeased" about stances he had taken on certain issues in the past.
Based on these concerns, senators decided to hold Simmonds' re-nomination for 30 days.
Simmonds subsequently appeared before the full Senate in September, where the same concerns were raised. Additional comments made by senators did, however, center on Simmonds' rumored bias toward Innovative Communication's Corp.
Senators took exception to the fact that former PSC chairman Valencio Jackson had not been re-nominated, and stated they felt it was because Jackson did not approve of Innovative's re-applying for EDC benefits after the company promised not to.
Consequently, the vote taken on Simmonds' re-nomination in September was split, with Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Pedro Encarnacion, Norman Jn Baptiste, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Richards and Ronald E. Russell voting against the nomination. Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, Hill, Neville James, Shawn-Michael Malone, and Celestino A. White Sr. voted in favor of the nomination. Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville did not vote.
Based on this vote, Harris-Moorhead said Simmonds was not confirmed, since V.I. law stipulates a majority of senators had to support the re-nomination in order for Simmonds to be able to serve on the board.
Harris-Moorhead added the V.I. Code further mandates that vacancies on boards and commissions must be filled within 60 days of the expiration of a member's term. "Therefore, the governor has to send us another candidate within 60 days," Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said after Thursday's meeting.
Once the discussion about Simmonds was finished, senators confirmed Esther Smith to the Tax Review Board, as well as Gerald Hills and Edmund Roberts to the St. John Coastal Zone Management Commission.
There was little discussion regarding the nominees, with the exception of Smith. Before a vote was taken, Malone told senators the Tax Review Board is currently not functioning, since the Senate still has to consider two other nominees. Malone said the Legislature is working "expeditiously" to meet with these individuals, as the Tax Review Board has the authority to determine property tax rates. "It is therefore a very important entity within the government," Malone said.
All nominations will go to the full body for further debate and a final vote.
Present at Thursday's meeting were Sens. Lorraine Berry, Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Pedro Encarnacion, Malone, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Usie Richards, Ronald Russell, and Celestino A. White Sr.
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