Nov.10, 2005 Eleven nominees for various government boards and commissions gained approval at a full Senate session Thursday, but not until after Senators voiced complaints about the nomination process and how nominees behave once they are confirmed.
Senators wondered out loud whether the right people were being nominated to local boards and whether they were doing the right things for the people of the Virgin Islands.
The longest discussions evolved out of mentions of a Government Employees Retirement System reform bill and the need for more money to be appropriated to the Waste Management Authority.
After spending months in the Legislature, the GERS bill was signed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull late last month. (See Governor Reluctantly Signs GERS Reform.) In a transmittal letter to Sen. Lorraine Berry, Turnbull said while he was hesitant to approve the bill because of its ambiguous language and other shortcomings, he was happy to see the bill being backed by the legislature, the GERS board, and other advocacy groups.
However, Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. said Thursday the GERS board did not support the bill. White said when the bill was up for a final vote at the last full session, GERS board members accosted him in a bathroom to request the bill be held for improvements.
"These individuals had further called meetings with other senators and Turnbull to stall the bill," he added. "These actions are just cowardly."
White's anger peaked when Berry distributed a letter from the GERS board requesting senators not make any amendments to the reform bill, as they are in the process of reworking it. As a result, instead of offering commentary on GERS board nominee Yvonne E. Bowsky, who was up for approval at Thursday's session, White said he sees that just because "people volunteer for these boards and commissions, doesn't mean they should be sitting there."
Sen. Louis P. Hill offered a rebuttal to comments made by officials regarding a section of the bill, which reduces benefits for judges, possibly subjecting them to higher contribution rates.
"There's nothing wrong with that section, because justices have to pay into the system just like everyone else," he said. "Really, if they don't pay for their benefits, then who willthe janitor, the teacher, some other hard working employee? That's not fair."
Changing the pace by commenting on the nominee, Sen. Roosevelt C. David said Bowsky impressed him because she supported the idea of a retirement plan for a senator, which, David said, is almost non-existent. He added, "As it is right now, I'll be getting next to nothing when I retire. So, this is something that I wholeheartedly support."
Discussion on the Waste Management Authority surfaced when Llewellyn Reed, a nominee for the Authority's board, came up for consideration. While showing Reed support, some senators said they would have to think long and hard before approving a request recently made by WMA for more funding.
"We appropriated $1.7 million to them [WMA] without them even doing inventory on what they had," Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg said. "And then there's the question about whether or not all the employees who were supposed to transition to the WMA from Public Works have actually done soI know there are still some employees in limbo over there, and I can't believe they would ask for more money when all the personnel issues have not been dealt with yet."
After listening to Donastorg's comments, Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, chair of the Finance Committee, said representatives approached him from the organization about more funding, and he will consider the request in the future.
Consideration of nominees for St. John's Coastal Zone Management board prompted commentary from David regarding the need for economic development in the territoryand better people serving on local boards and commissions.
"The people on these boards have to understand what they're doing," David said. "They have to promote economic development–CZM took a year to grant Golden Gaming a permit to develop a resort on the island of St. Croix, which is why construction on the facility has stalled. Didn't the people on the board recognize the advantage of having this resortthat it would bring in more revenues for the government, more jobs for the territory?"
David added that if the government doesn't support economic development initiatives, then residents will have to be taxed more to compensate from any revenues which are lost as a result.
White and Sen. Usie R. Richards said they would not be voting on one of the CZM nominees, Gerald H. Hills, because he has only lived part-time on St. John during the past five years.
"I think that there are people on the island who have lived there all their lives, and know everything there is to know about their environment," Richards said. "They are the ones who should be on the board."
At the end of three hours, all 11 nominees were approved. They are:
Tax Review Board
— Esther Smith
— Francisco Depusoir
St. Thomas Committee of the V.I. Coastal Zone Management Commission
— Gerald H. Hills
— Edmund Roberts
Board of Psychology Examiners
— Gregory Bennerson
St. Croix Horse Racing Commission
— Norman Cuencas
— Betty Wilson
— Wayne Biggs
— Lawrence T. Motta
GERS Board of Trustees
— Yvonne E. Bowsky
V.I. Waste Management Authority
— Llewellyn Reed
All senators, except for Sen. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, were present at Thursday's meeting.
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