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Wednesday, June 12, 2024


Water and Power Authority board member Claude "Tappy" Molloy ripped colleague Andrew Rutnik for his role in the proposed partnership between the V.I. government and Southern Energy at the utility’s board of governors meeting Thursday.
Molloy, a staunch critic of the deal, questioned his fellow board members about what role the body should play at this point in the process. He then set his sights on Rutnik, who was on Gov. Charles Turnbull’s negotiating team for the deal. Rutnik also serves in Turnbull’s Cabinet as Licensing and Consumer Affairs commissioner.
Molloy asked Rutnik to explain how his travel and accommodations were paid for when Rutnik and fellow WAPA board members Arthur Downing, Ira Hobson and Dean Plaskett, all also on the Government House negotiating team, went to Southern’s headquarters in Atlanta last summer. Molloy alleges, as does a lawsuit brought by St. Croix community activist Gail Watson Chiang, that Southern picked up the tab for first-class airfare and rooms at the Ritz-Carlton, among other things.
"The board is being constantly criticized for not saying or doing nothing," Malloy said. "I hope we're not going to wait until the last minute to do or say anything."
As for how expenses were paid, Molloy said that once the question was raised, Southern billed WAPA. He then said the administration’s consultant, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, is now footing travel bills.
"I find it immoral, unethical and possibly illegal what has transpired so far," Molloy said.
He then asked Rutnik to respond to his allegations. Rutnik deferred, saying that all Molloy’s questions could be answered through WAPA and Southern’s records. He also said he couldn’t answer because he is listed as a defendant in Chiang’s lawsuit. Still, he blasted Molloy’s allegations as "half-truths, inaccuracies and misinformation."
"The negotiations were merely that –- negotiations," Rutnik said. "The document that was produced . . . is a matter of public record. Any other comment regarding the negotiations are in a court case."
He said if the board wanted to address Molloy’s concerns, he would speak to the issue. Otherwise, he said, he would let the "record stand for itself."
Molloy indicated that he hadn’t exhausted his inquiry into the issue. "Mr. Rutnik, all I can say is you can run but you can’t hide," he said.
Meanwhile, Molloy failed in his efforts at the meeting to get the other board members present to take a position as a group on the proposed deal between the Turnbull administration and Southern Energy by which the government would sell 80 percent of the utility to the Atlanta-based company. Present in addition to Molloy were board chair Carol Burke, Downing, G. Luz James Sr., William Lomax and Hobson.
While the power to sell WAPA rests with the Senate, Molloy said, the board should not remain silent on the matter. "By law we are the trustees of the Water and Power Authority, and I think rightfully we should play a role," he said.
At least one other board member, James, came out against the sale at the meeting, calling it "stupidness."

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