Nov. 9, 2005 — Sen. Louis Hill started out talking about the subject at hand in the Committee on Education, Culture, and Youth hearing Wednesday, but quickly veered into a condemnation of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's administration.
He was discussing the status of technology and communications in the schools. Hill said that Dr. Clinton Stapleton was qualified as director of instructional technology at the schools since Stapleton had a doctorate in educational technology. But he then said that Turnbull's administration did not hire the qualified people it needed to update the government's systems. He said, "I don't even know if the person testifying for the Bureau of Information Technology had a high school diploma in technology."
However, the lack of technology was not Hill's prime target in hitting the administration. What seemed to raise his anger was the news that Turnbull had proposed to send Alric Simmonds' name back to the senate for a seat on the Public Services Commission. Hill said, "He was rejected in the Rules Committee. He was rejected in the full Senate. If his name comes down again — and I voted for him last time — I will vote against him." (See "Simmonds Nomination Nixed by Senate, 8 Others Approved").
Hill said it appeared the governor was fighting an ongoing war with the Legislature. He pointed out that Turnbull was looking to fund the building of the Supreme Court on St. Thomas, while the senate passed legislation saying the court should be built on St. Croix.
Hill said it was time for this fight to stop because the V.I. government had important issues to attend to instead of wasting energy on infighting.
One of the criticisms of Simmonds, who is also the governor's deputy chief of staff, is that he may be too friendly with Vitelco, also known as Innovative Telephone, which the PSC is charged with overseeing.
Oddly enough in the Education Committee hearing, Vitelco's name came up a second time.
Innovative has received millions of dollars in tax breaks as part of the Economic Development Commission program. Sen. Liston Davis, chair of the committee, said it was his understanding that as part of Innovative's package the communications company promised to help the schools with technical communication costs. Davis asked Noreen Michael, commissioner of Education, whether Innovative had been fulfilling its side of that bargain.
Michael said "no" and that Frank Schulterbrandt, executive director of the EDC, had been informed of that failure.
Sen. Ronald Russell, contacted Wednesday, agreed with Hill's position on the Simmonds renomination.
"Simmonds was voted down by the Senate — and Gov. Turnbull should respect that," Russell said. "What we believe is in the best interest of the people; if we feel a certain way about a particular nominee, then we vote accordingly."
However, Sen. Lorraine Berry had different feelings. When she was contacted Wednesday, she said Simmonds should be renominated for a second term because of his experience and because he sits on a national board and has national status.
Simmonds sits on the board of the Mid-Atlantic Conference of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.
Even though Simmonds was not renominated to the PSC, he was elected its chairman at the last meeting by virtue of his position as vice-chairman before former chairman Valencio Jackson's term expired. Jackson, who had served only one term on the commission, was not renominated by Turnbull some think because he was far more critical of the phone company than some of his colleagues. At first Simmonds' election appeared to be illegal. (See "Senators Contest Simmonds Being PSC Board Chair").
But later, according to Berry, the issue was revisited and it was determined that Simmonds could serve up to 60 days from the date the renomination was killed by the Senate. That would extend his term to Nov. 22.
The senators deadlocked on the vote for Simmonds' renomination — seven to seven. A majority is needed for a nomination to pass. Juan Figueroa-Serville abstained from voting because he sits on the PSC board in an advisory capacity.
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