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Friday, January 27, 2023



Nov. 13, 2001 – The 24th Legislature learned Tuesday that Gov. Charles W. Turnbull was within his legal authority in issuing executive orders raising the ceilings on salaries of administration officials. What they did not learn is where the money for the expected raises is to come from, and how much the raises will be.
The Senate had subpoenaed the governor's top fiscal officers to supply answers to those questions in Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting. In the daylong session, which started more than an hour late and extended into the evening, Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget; Karen Andrews, chief negotiator, Office of Collective Bargaining; Bernice Turnbull, Finance commissioner; Louis Willis, Internal Revenue Bureau director; and union officials testified.
In a 15-page memorandum of law requested by the Legislature, Senate legal counsel Constance Krieger said the governor's executive order was consistent with applicable law, the Legislature has no authority to repeal the order, nor does it have standing to sue the governor for increasing the salary ceilings. However, Krieger noted, the Legislature has "broad authority to investigate executive actions."
Mills said it will cost $7.3 million to implement the governor's executive orders. He supplied a list of 590 non-union and exempt employees scheduled to get raises, but the list bore no figures, prompting complaints from some senators. Mills said the governor has not yet made decisions on the individual increases.
"Until the governor makes recommendations, I have only estimates, and I haven't got dispensation from the governor," Mills said. "It would be inappropriate for me to answer at this time."
He added, however, "The governor has reiterated that no department or agency head will receive a salary of $97,000. This ceiling will not be implemented." Mills did not say when the governor had made, or repeated, this statement.
To date, Mills said, the administration has implemented salary increases for 13 bargaining units starting on Sept. 23, "all of which were previously negotiated and left partially implemented or not implemented at all." He said an additional eight collective bargaining units have recently completed negotiations and are awaiting the processing of their increases.
Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen wanted to know why, when the administration was before the Legislature defending the $44 million to put the unionized government workers on step in the budget hearings, no mention was made about funding for the executive order increases.
The senators weren't satisfied with Mills' answers. Andrews explained in detail the reasoning behind the governor's decision on the increases, emphasizing that the raises given to the unionized workers leave many supervisors making less than those who work under them.
The union representatives were no more pleased about the governor's orders than the senators. Vernelle de Legarde, St. Thomas-St. John Federation of Teachers president, said, "The governor's executive orders are somewhat out of order at this time." She continued, "It is incomprehensible to me. Though education is everyone's No. 1 priority, or so they say, there is a shortage of teachers, nurses and cooks in this system still awaiting salary increases."
Tyrone Molyneaux, St. Croix AFT president, concurred. "The key word here is accountability," he said. "We went through a very bitter strike, and in March of this year we were told we would have to wait five more years before we could see another raise."
Darryl George, head of St. Thomas-St. John Firefighters Union Local 2125, said, "We constantly get the short end of the stick. We listened to the executive branch say there is no money. These raises for exempt employees are going to have a catastrophic effect on the people that work under the commissioners and those that work with them. It hurts."
Sen. Carlton Dowe said, "I have no problem with people being paid. If there is money, we need to share it from top to bottom. But we ought to communicate with each other. There is no reason the media should have had copies of the executive orders before us." That had been an issue when the orders were made public last week.
The senators shifted Mills out of the hot seat now and then with their own issues. Throughout the session, Liburd raised the issue of the governor's veto of an amendment the senate had drafted making their own salaries equal to that of the highest-paid commissioner. He said more than once that he wanted it made perfectly clear that their salaries were remaining at $65,000. Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg took the opportunity to remark, "If the governor hadn't vetoed that measure, we woudn't be sitting here today."
Senate Majority Leader Celestino A. White Sr. introduced a resolution naming Sen. Norman Jn. Baptiste vice president of the 24th Legislature, succeeding Sen. Adelbert Bryan, who formally resigned the position last week, and naming Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole as secretary, replacing Jn. Baptiste.
The senators roved far and wide in their debate time on the issue. Sen. David Jones noted the 24th Legislature had sent many precedents, including three resolutions reorganizing the body within one year. Sen. Lorraine Berry drew laughter when she said that was okay with her, adding, "We should continue until we get it right."
Sen. Douglas Canton used his time to describe the new office he has been moved into, having been removed from the space he previously shared with Sen. Emmett Hansen II before Hansen joined the majority. The second-floor cubicle is slightly smaller than a 9 by 12 rug, with neither telephone nor fax. Canton told his constituents, "If you want to see me, let me know in advance," a reference to making room.
Canton also commented, "A body that acts to dismember itself says a lot about itself."
Hansen said the move was made to accommodate Canton and give him more privacy.
The reorganization resolution passed 14-1 with Bryan voting no. Bryan said, "I am here as a proud United States African." Both Cole and Jn. Baptiste are naturalized citizens. Cole is from Nevis, and Jn.Baptiste is from St. Lucia.
Before taking a late afternoon recess, the senators asked Mills to return to the meeting with more documented information about the governor's intended raises. Remaining on the agenda was an amendment to change government departments' and agencies' line-item budgets to lump-sum budgets. which the governor had requested.
All the senators were present for the session.

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