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Aug. 6, 2002 – In the first media-driven charge and countercharge of the 2002 gubernatorial campaign, incumbent Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has thrown down the gauntlet, and challenger John P. de Jongh Jr. has taken it up.
In a paid radio address on Friday, Turnbull devoted most of his commentary to criticizing "one of the opposing candidates," whom he identified only as having been "commissioner of Finance and executive assistant to the governor." De Jongh held those posts in the Farrelly administration.
Turnbull described the subject of his criticism as "the same gentleman who recommended that I send home 2,500 classified government employees as one of the solutions to our financial crisis."
In several on-air responses later Friday, de Jongh termed the governor's remarks "unsubstantiated allegations" and challenged Turnbull to provide proof for his claim.
Now, de Jongh has gone public with that same challenge in advertisements published Tuesday in both of the territory's print newspapers. In the ads, he offers to pay for the publication of the governor's response and evidence.
De Jongh also noted in a release that in addition to being aired on the paid radio spot, the governor's allegations were distributed to the media in an official Government House press release. The two-page release on Office of the Governor letterhead was faxed to the media Friday morning. Public employees by law are barred from campaigning for themselves or for another candidate during work hours or utilizing work facilities.
Prior to his first-term inauguration, Turnbull tapped de Jongh to head his Fiscal Recovery Task Force, and de Jongh was a principal architect of the Five-Year Operating and Strategic Financial Plan that the task force presented to the new governor.
The five-year plan, which for the most part has not been implemented, noted that at that time, more than 10,500 people — about a third of the V.I. work force — were local government employees. The payroll for 8,444 of them consumed 73 percent of General Fund revenues, and the others were paid from federally funded sources.
The task force recommended in the plan that there be quarterly monitoring of a 1998 memorandum of understanding between the V.I. and federal governments on progress by the local government in reducing overtime, imposing a hiring freeze and reducing payroll costs by 5 percent. It further called for cutting overtime in half, hiring one person for every two who left government service, and continuing a 5 percent annual reduction in payroll costs through Fiscal Year 2004
In March of 1999, at the annual meeting of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, when de Jongh was installed as the organization's new president, the guest speaker was Turnbull. In his remarks, the governor said that as the financially stricken government embarked on the process of downsizing, it would look to the private sector to absorb workers then on the public payroll.
Turnbull in his Friday radio remarks said salary increases to unionized workers took effect on Sept. 23, 2001, "and resulted in the payment of retroactive funds implemented during calendar year 2002." He added, "When I granted salary increases for the first time in 10 years to many of the employees of the exempt service, these increases were also made retroactive to the Sept. 23, 2001, date as provided for by law."
The governor also charged that the target of his criticism "consistently advised against the payment of retroactive pay due to deserving employees for years."
The task force's five-year plan stated that retroactive wages owed public workers stood at $271.7 million at the start of 1999 and was increasing at the rate of $25 million a year. The task force recommended in the plan that the government negotiate with the unions to find a way to implement step increases and obtain a 100 percent forgiveness of the retroactive obligation.

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