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TURNBULL DEFENDS RAISES

Gov. Charles Turnbull on Friday blasted a recent news report that showed dozens of government workers were given pay raises between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31.
The V.I. Daily News on Thursday reported that 37 government workers received a total of $227,656 a year in raises from the time Turnbull took office in January to the end of last month. The Division of Personnel listing of those who received raises was ordered as evidence by a federal magistrate judge as part of a lawsuit against the Turnbull administration for allegedly denying a supporter of former Gov. Roy Schneider a job.
The raises were fodder for call-in radio shows because they come amidst the governor’s call that all government agencies reduce their budgets by 15 percent in order to help save money.
On Friday, teachers at Bertha C. Boschulte Jr. High School on St. Thomas didn’t show up to work because of news of the raises, said Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds at a Senate budget hearing. She said the principal of the school had to go on the radio to inform parents to pick up their children.
Teachers, among other government workers, are owed more than $200 million in retroactive raises.
During a radio interview on Friday Turnbull called the story "irresponsible reporting" and then defended the raises by saying they were given because individuals had been promoted. He said the list was published "just to alarm people."
"Hundreds and hundreds of names could have appeared in the paper," Turnbull said.
He said Department of Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson received a raise when he moved from an engineering position in the department to commissioner, yet he wasn’t on the list.
"He received an increase because he was moved from a lower position to commissioner," Turnbull said.
The governor used an anonymous Department of Education employee who holds a doctorate as another example. The person was promoted from a $26,000-year teaching position to a $45,000-plus job as a school principal.
"When the entire story is told," said Turnbull, "the people will understand."
Government House spokeswoman Rina Jacobs McBrowne didn’t immediately return calls on Friday.
Of the 37 people who received raises, 25 were for between $1,000 and $5,000 a year; seven were between $5,000 and $10,000 a year; two were for $11,000 a year and three people received raises of more than $15,000 a year.
At the Senate budget hearing where Education officials testified that the department was having troubles paying its utility bills, Sen. Gregory Bennerson said he saw no justification for raises while the government is in a financial crunch.
"This whole crisis is dividing the Virgin Islands," he said. "There seems to be a conflict on where we’re going, from where we can’t pay our bills to raises.
"My concern is, how logically . . . are we approaching these cuts?"
Just before a government hiring freeze went into effect at the end of June, Turnbull signed two notices of personnel action for his sister in-law and the wife of Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II to work in the Department of Tourism.
Turnbull’s sister-in-law will make $45,000 a year as an assistant to the assistant commissioner of tourism on St. Thomas while James’ wife will make $40,000 a year to attract conventions and meetings to the territory.
The aim of Turnbull’s government hiring freeze is to get a handle on the billion-dollar debt that the territory faces. The edict states that no full-time employment will be made unless it carries a statement of critical need.

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