April 2, 2002 – Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen abruptly recessed Tuesday afternoon's Senate Finance Committee meeting after Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management Budget, failed to appear by the roll call at about 1:20 p.m., 10 minutes after the meeting was called to order.
On the meeting agenda was review of five proposed appropriation transfers. No testimony was taken.
"The OMB director is the fiscal officer of the Virgin Islands" and as such is required to finalize the transfer of government funds, Hansen said. She told those who were present to testify that she sympathized with their plight, but that she would conduct business appropriately.
The failure of Mills to appear came 11 days after senators first learned that the executive branch had decided to enforce an until-then largely ignored directive from Gov. Charles W. Turnbull last August. The governor, in response to his top officials being kept cooling their heels at the Legislature time and again, waiting for hours to be called to testify, decreed that henceforth Senate "invitations" for administration officials to appear would have to be cleared in advance with the Office of the Governor.
On March 18, Attorney General Iver Stridiron wrote to Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd stating that the directive was in force. On March 21, "invited" Coastal Zone Management officials failed to appear to testify at a Planning and Environmental Protection Committee hearing. The next day, "invited" police authorities did not show up at a Government Operations Committee meeting.
Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull, who was among those present for the Tuesday afternoon committee meeting, said she had spoken to Mills in the morning and he had said nothing about attending the session. Hansen verified that correspondence was sent March 26 "inviting" him to testify and that a return receipt was signed by an OMB clerk.
The appropriation transfers are necessary for departments to continue day-to-day operations, Hansen said, adding that the affected government departments need Mills' approval "because they have an itemized budget."
The appropriation transfers are for the Office of Collective Bargaining, Finance Department, Board of Education and Internal Revenue Bureau.
The Finance Department is seeking two transfers, of $150,000 and $459.389. "This delay certainly affects me," Bernice Turnbull said. "Since Sept.11, we've had to back up a lot of our records. We've been awaiting funds for homeland security measures."
Other invited witnesses present were Karen Andrews, chief labor negotiator; Evadney Hodge, Board of Education executive director; and Louis Willis, Internal Revenue Bureau director. All had traveled to St. Croix from St. Thomas to testify with the hope of returning home with supplemental budget funds approved.
Hodge said she was unsure if she would be able to return for the next committee meeting. "We don't even have tickets to travel next week," she said. "It affects us terribly." The basic transfer sought by the Board of Education is to help pay for security services at its offices on St. Thomas.
About 10 minutes after Hansen recessed the hearing, Willis told her that he had reached Mills, who said he could catch a flight and get to St. Croix within an hour. That was not acceptable to her. "He has not submitted any excuse not to appear," she said. "I will hope that you all will look at Mr. Mills and tell him that in this committee we will do things right. The commissioner of OMB will not ignore this committee."
Hansen said she would rescheduled the hearing in seven days. She said she would have to give the media seven days' notice before she could reconvene the meeting.
Stridiron, in his March 18 letter to Liburd, said that if the Legislature were to subpoena officials to testify, he would direct them to appear and state their name, title and department but say nothing more.
The Planning and Environment Protection Committee voted to subpoena three CZM officials to appear at a meeting next month. The Government Operations Committee, which is scheduled to meet Wednesday morning on St. Croix, has subpoenaed Mills, Bernice Turnbull, chief labor negotiator Karen Andrews, acting Personnel Division director Kevin Rodriquez and five top police officials.
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