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Saturday, January 28, 2023



Nov. 6, 2001 – Dr. Mavis Matthew was approved as Health commissioner and Judge Edgar D. Ross was confirmed for a second term on the Territorial Court bench by the full Senate on Tuesday.
In the first day of a three-day session on St. Thomas, the Legislature also approved Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's nominees to the Public Services Commission, the Roy L. Schneider Hospital and Health Facilities Board, and the Government Employees Retirement System Board.
However, some of the most spirited discussion had to do not with the day's agenda but with the morning's news that Turnbull had by executive order granted huge salary increases to his commissioners and other top administrators.
Matthew, a pediatrician, had been acting commissioner for more than six months, the maximum period an appointee can serve in an acting capacity. She became acting commissioner in January after Dr. Lucien Moolenaar, former acting commissioner and now deputy commissioner for public health services, was accused of embezzling about $100,000 from the V.I. government between 1995 and 2000.
On Oct. 19, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull nominated Matthew to serve as permanent head of the department. At a Rules Committee hearing last month, senators grilled her for about four hours before unanimously approving the appointment and forwarding it to the full Senate.
Matthew had been director from 1991 to 1999 of the Maternal and Child Health and Children with Special Health Care Needs programs. She served as Health Department assistant commissioner from 1999 until early this year.
The senators warmly endorsed Matthew's appointment Tuesday but offered advice all the same. Sen. Emmett Hansen II voiced expressed the sentiments of several colleagues when he said he hoped she would communicate with the senators and return telephone calls. He and the other senators criticized unnamed commissioners and other government officials for not responding to phone messages.
Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd told Matthew, "I admire your perseverance, but I think Sept. 11 had something to do with the governor sending your nomination down. It became apparent someone had to head the Health Department."
Ross's nomination passed quickly and unanimously. The judge was unable to attend the session because he had a jury trial on St. Croix. The native Crucian has been a member of the local legal community since beginning his career in 1970 with V.I. Community Legal Services. He held District Court and Territorial judgeships between 1980 and 1984 before assuming his present position on the Territorial Court bench in 1995.
No keeping up with the commissioners
Something other than the nominations at hand pervaded the session. Late Monday Turnbull issued a release citing his executive order giving whopping pay raises to his Cabinet appointees and their subordinates, setting new pay ceilings for commissioners, assistant commissioners, deputy commissioners and heads of divisions.
The commissioners will receive a salary increase of almost 50 percent, to $97,000 from $65,000. Earlier this year in the 2002 Omnibus Bill, senators put in an amendment to the V.I. Code that would have made their own salaries commensurate with that of the highest-paid commissioner. At the time, both commissioners and senators received $65,000 annually. The governor line-item vetoed the amendment.
The senators had anticipated that Turnbull would raise commissioner salaries because of step increases recently given to government workers under them who could, as a result, stand to be making more than their superiors.
An override of the governor's veto was an option the senators could have exercised in Tuesday's session. They didn't do that, but the governor's raising of ceilings for his top aides did not go without comment.
Sen. Roosevelt David, after backing Matthew's nomination, told her, "I think the governor had plans up his sleeve. After he sent you down, he gave you $97,000."
Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. said he wasn't seeking an override now, but that might change, depending on whether "the governor makes a move to adjust the governor and the lieutenant governor's salaries." (Gubernatorial aide James O'Bryan said Tuesday that Turnbull was not planning to do that — and that the salaries of the two top officials must be approved by the Legislature.)
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole said, "We will leave the governor's veto stay." That's the way things stayed until later in the session, when Sen. Adelbert Bryan asked the Senate legal counsel to give an opinion on the governor's executive order.
Liburd said he hadn't seen the order and asked his staff to check and see if a copy had been received. It turned out it had been received Tuesday at about 3 p.m. Liburd noted the date on the order as Nov. 1 and wondered why it had taken so long to reach him. A copy of the order the Source received was dated Nov. 5.
Liburd and other senators were not happy to have received the news via published reports of the raises Tuesday in the print media. "I think the governor should inform the Legislature before the media," the Senate president said.
Commission, board nominees approved
Approved for the Public Services Commission were Jerris T. Browne, deputy police commissioner; Valencio Jackson, Finance Department assistant commissioner; Alric Simmonds, deputy chief of staff to the governor; Verne C. David, business consultant; and Desmond Maynard, attorney, who was reappointed to a second term. The approvals gives the commission, long hampered by lack of appointments, five of its legally mandated seven voting members.
Approved for reappointment to the RLS Hospital and Health Facilities Board were current board members June A. Adams and Ray K. Joseph.
Approved for the Government Employees Retirement System Board were Raymond James, special assistant to the Housing, Parks and Recreation commissioner; Yvonne Bowsky, retired educator; and Marvin L. Pickering. Reappointed to the GERS board were Vincent G. Liger, a social worker, and Leona E. Smith, Licensing and Consumer Affairs coordinator.
Liburd recessed the session about 5 p.m. because some senators had to travel to St. Croix for a funeral Wednesday. He said discussion on the governor's order would continue in the second day's session, scheduled to convene at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday on St. Thomas.
All senators attended the session except Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, who was excused.

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