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Cruz Bay
Wednesday, April 17, 2024


Senate Vice President Adelbert Bryan is calling for a meeting of the Legislature to look into the "cloud" around the character of the acting Labor commissioner, Cecil Benjamin.
The Senate Rules Committee voted on Thursday to send Benjamin’s nomination as Labor commissioner to the full Senate with an unfavorable recommendation. Bryan wants an investigation of allegations made during the Rules hearing of corruption during Benjamin’s tenure as president of the St. Croix chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.
In a letter to Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd on Friday, Bryan called for a meeting of the Senate Committee of the Whole to look into the allegations made against Benjamin, including misrepresentation and misappropriation of teachers union funds and failure to represent AFT members properly in negotiations with the Turnbull administration.
Bryan said answers to the allegations were not forthcoming during the Rules meeting and a hearing should be held before the full Senate with witnesses under oath. Benjamin has denied any wrongdoing.
"It is imperative that these questions be answered prior to the full body taking final action on Benjamin’s nomination," Bryan wrote Liburd. "The issue is not that the nominee was forwarded to the Legislature by the governor, and should be confirmed by the Legislature. The Legislature has a duty to do the right thing. To do otherwise would reflect negatively on the legislative body. As elected officials, we must use the 'advise and consent' powers conferred upon us with extreme caution."
Despite the negative Rules vote, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, a Democrat, expressed continuing support Friday for Benjamin, also a Democrat. The governor cited the nominee's "long and distinguished" career in labor, with two decades at the helm of the St. Croix AFT.
The Rules Committee — whose membership consists of unaligned senators and members of the Independent Citizens Movement party -– voted unanimously to forward Benjamin’s nomination to the Senate floor with an unfavorable recommendation.
In his letter to Liburd, Bryan, a committee member, called for "certain members of the 24th Legislature" to recuse themselves when it is time to vote on Benjamin’s nomination. He noted that Sen. Vargrave Richards served as a vice president of the St. Croix AFT under Benjamin. Sen. Norman Jn. Baptiste, a former teacher, also was a member of the St. Croix chapter.
Turnbull, meanwhile, called for the Senate to "put partisanship aside" in addressing the nomination. His nominee’s record, he said, "considered in its totality, reflects that Mr. Benjamin is ideally suited to lead the Department of Labor at a crucial time in the territory’s history and should be given the opportunity to do so."
Bryan likened Benjamin’s situation to that of previous nominees, including Clement "Cain" Magras, whose nomination to be Tourism commissioner was rejected by the Senate primarily because of sexual harassment allegations against him. Bryan also mentioned the former V.I. Lottery director in the Schneider administration, Alec Dizon, who recently pleaded guilty to defrauding the government while heading the agency.
"Based upon testimonies," there is "a cloud surrounding [Benjamin’s] character," Bryan wrote in his letter to Liburd. "Clearly, members of the Legislature should not become active participants in our own destruction, and that of the territory."

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