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Thursday, June 13, 2024


Aug. 31, 2001 – Three out of four of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's new picks for the Public Services Commission made the cut Thursday at a Senate Rules Committee hearing.
All of the current PSC members' terms have expired, and the commission often has not been able to muster a quorum. In February 2000, Turnbull had sent five nominations to the Senate for approval. Eventually, and for varying reasons, all five withdrew their names from consideration.
Approved as new PSC chair, replacing Walter Challenger, whose term expired in 1999, was Alric Simmonds, Turnbull's deputy chief of staff. The others approved Thursday were Valencio Jackson, Finance Department assistant commissioner, to fill a vacancy; and Desmond Maynard, a PSC member since 1995, who was reappointed to another term.
The governor had nominated Jerris T. Browne, Police deputy commissioner, for the seat last occupied by Patrick Williams of St. Croix. Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole rose in support of Browne's nomination but received no second to his motion as the committee remained silent. Earlier, Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel had questioned Browne's knowledge of the PSC and expressed surprise to find that he was unaware of current legislation mandating rate investigations.
Rules Committee members said the commission, which regulates public utilities in the territory — specifically, telephone, water and power, cable television and inter-island ferry services — has come in for a lot of criticism in recent years for a seeming lack of effectiveness and allegations of possible wrongdoing.
Maynard, who has publicly disagreed with some of Challenger's actions, told the senators that the commission's reputation was deserved. "The PSC has been plagued with political discord," he said. "It is essential that we regain the public's trust … The number of cases we have processed is down drastically." He suggested better staffing and utilization of up-to-date technology as steps in the right direction.
Questioned by Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Roosevelt David, Maynard provided information about a consulting firm the PSC recently hired. Maynard called the hiring of AUS Consultants to conduct a rate investigation of Innovative Telephone, formerly Vitelco, a suspect move.
Maynard walked out of a PSC meeting in May after disagreeing with Challenger when the hiring of AUS was on the table. After his departure, the commission voted, 3-0, to make AUS its consultant. Four members constitute a quorum. Challenger said at the time that since a quorum was present when the meeting started, the motion and vote to hire AUS was legal.
Maynard said — and an associate of Edward H. Salmon, AUS president, also told the Source — that AUS had worked for Vitelco, now called Innovative Telephone, in the past on a depreciation matter. "That information should have been presented to the commission," Maynard said Thursday. "I think it represents a conflict of interest."
He admitted to having deliberately skipped some PSC meetings, "not because I didn't want to participate. I just didn't want to be part of what I consider a charade."
Maynard also said he has evidence that the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities terminated a consulting contract with AUS because of ethical breaches on the Salmon's part.
Donastorg charged earlier this month that Salmon was forced to leave that board in 1996 and that his ouster was related to dinners he allegedly accepted from lawyers representing companies the board regulated.
Simmonds and Jackson breezed through the three-hour hearing, essentially stating how they would protect the consumers' interest, which, senators noted, should be the PSC's mission. Rules chair Carlton Dowe asked them how the fact that they are government employees and Turnbull is their boss would affect their conduct on the commission. Both said they had the ability to be independent thinkers, apparently satisfying the committee.
A fourth nominee, Verne C. David, was unable to attend the hearing and will be considered at a Sept. 13 meeting.
The committee also approved a resolution honoring Henry A. Millen for his contributions to the V.I. Housing Authority and a lease agreement between the government and the John's Folly Learning Institute on St. John.
Rules Committee members attending the meeting were Cole, Dowe, Pickard-Samuel and Adelbert Bryan. Sens. Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, also members, were excused. Liburd is out of the territory and Hansen was on St. Croix as chair of the Finance Committee. Donastorg and David, also present, are not members of the committee.

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