April 23, 2006 — Looking at the creation of municipal governments and a comprehensive land- and water-use plan and making sure residents are informed about various public policy issues are just some of the activities the League of Women Voters will be focusing on this year, members said at their annual meeting, held over the weekend at Pilgrim's Terrace on St. Thomas.
Barbara Petersen, the league's first vice president, said that there would also be a focus on voter registration and the broadcasting of debates between senatorial, gubernatorial and congressional delegate candidates in the upcoming months – along with plenty of discussion on the 2007 constitutional convention and the idea of determining a permanent political status for the territory.
During the meeting, some League members said they felt that it doesn't make sense to have a constitutional convention without first determining political status – and that Virgin Islanders would have to discuss both issues before deciding how they would vote in a referendum.
"The idea of [political] status is a big issue with us, and it's been relatively difficult to determine whether we support the status quo or whether we really want to change our status," Erva Denham, the league's president-elect, said during a phone interview Saturday evening.
"We also have to remember that there are all kinds of things we have to consider before we make a decision – like the economics of the matter or how we're going to determine exactly who we are as a community," Denham said. "But I think that the majority of people seem to be relatively comfortable with what we've got, especially since we've moved up a lot within our current status."
Carlyle Corbin, special assistant to the governor, was invited to speak to league members about the relationship between the development of a constitution and political status.
During the meeting he said that it is difficult to assume how the majority of residents feel because the idea of political status has not been at the forefront of discussion in the community. He also said that since only 27.4 percent of registered voters came out to vote in the last political status referendum, the territory reverted to the status quo by default.
"Also, the majority of the 27.4 percent voted in favor of a category which contained not one, but three options: an autonomous commonwealth status, the status quo, and a compact of federal relations," Corbin said, arguing that voters could have been supporting any of the three categories. "We will never know. The only way to find out would be to revisit the issue again, this time with a far more sustained public education program."
Corbin further said that federal law states the development of a local constitution must be based on the Virgin Islands' current status as an unincorporated territory. "So, it should be made clear to the people that the adoption of a local constitution does not end the quest for a full measure of self-government, although it is an important incremental step in that direction," he added.
Switching gears, Denham said during the meeting that the league should also be focusing on the topic of crime, which she said is "getting out of hand." Denham further suggested that the development of crime watch groups in neighborhoods could cut down on the number of burglaries, which have been plaguing the community, and give residents the opportunity to better know their neighbors.
Longtime league member Susan Seipel also spoke about the need to recruit new members, noting that 17 individuals had joined the organization this year. She also gave a brief history about the formation of the league, which was first established in the St. Thomas-St. John district in October 1968 and on St. Croix in December 1968.
"Since 1968, the league has been a vital force in educating V.I. voters and focusing attention on public policy issues," Seipel said, explaining that the organization set up the first voter booths in the territory during the 1970 gubernatorial election and put on the first televised debate for voters in the 1976 election.
After Seipel's speech, members also held an election for new league officials and selected a new president, second vice president and board of directors. Some officials selected during the meeting will be serving for two years, while others, who are serving out the unexpired terms of old members, will be serving for one year.
Elected over the weekend were:
President: Erva Denham, who is serving out the unexpired term of former league president Rosalie Simmonds-Ballentine.
Second Vice President: Gwen-Marie Moolenaar.
Secretary: Priscilla Hintz.
Treasurer: Margaret Quetel, who will serve for one year.
Newly elected board:
Christie O' Neal
Chaneel Callwood Daniels, who will serve for one year.
Remaining board members:
Anita Davila, who will serve for one year.
Helen Gjessing was appointed by Denham to take over as chair of the league's planning and environmental quality committee.
Petersen was retained as the league's first vice president, while Simmonds-Ballentine becomes an ex-officio member of the board.
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