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HomeNewsArchivesNEW WAPA EXEC TAKES HEAT, PLEDGES LIGHT

NEW WAPA EXEC TAKES HEAT, PLEDGES LIGHT

May 17, 2001 – In his first week on the job, Water and Power Authority executive director Joseph Thomas withstood a raucous Senate grilling, sat through a lively and lengthy board meeting, and unveiled his vision for WAPA's future as an entity better understood and appreciated in the community.
A man not easily dissuaded, he did admit to being taken aback by his treatment at the hands of Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Norma Pickard-Samuel during Tuesday evening's Senate Finance Committee meeting. "I couldn't believe it," he said. "They were so rude and ill behaved. If they are role models for the children, what must the kids think?"
Hansen, who chairs the committee, and freshman senator Pickard-Samuel questioned him at length about what he planned to do in the Virgin Islands, sometimes giving him no opportunity to reply. At one point, Pickard-Samuel told him she didn't think he belonged on St. Thomas in the capacity of WAPA administrator.
Thomas took it all in stride. "It didn't deter me one iota," he said. "I'm sure that's not representative of the whole Senate." He added, "I've dealt with legislatures before."
He sees lack of good communication with the public as one of the utility's big problems. His administration, he pledges, will be an open one — he refers to his intention to "turn the light on" so consumers will not be kept in the dark about WAPA operations.
"We want people, the media, to know what we are doing," he said. "An executive director as a channel to the public is not enough. We need public affairs people to say what is going on."
As for St. Thomas, "The people we have met here have been kind and warm," Thomas says of himself and his wife. "We already have a home." They plan to make the permanent move from Atlanta in June.
Thomas has a strong marketing and utilities background, most recently as owner of his own consulting firm, J.R. Thomas Associates Inc. He brought to that venture 22 years of experience in hands-on utilities management.
WAPA Governing Board chair Carol Burke called the behavior of Hansen and Pickard-Samuel toward the new executive director at the Rules Committee hearing "embarrassing."
Burke, a former senator from St. Croix herself, also came under attack from Hansen Tuesday, especially for not attending the Rules meeting. Burke says she had written Hansen that she couldn't be there because of ongoing WAPA board meetings this week. Further, she says, she told Hansen she had provided the committee with all the information it required. "There exists no other information on issues which can be provided by the board," she said.
Hansen's committee called for a government audit of WAPA's financial operations, although the utility is audited annually by an outside firm contracted in-house. Burke said Thursday she would "welcome" the audit by the Senate post auditor and the V.I. Inspector General's Office.

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