Sept. 4, 2002 – One of the current public officials running for elective office said on Tuesday that he has taken a leave from his present office in order to campaign, even though he may not be required by law to do so. As far as could be determined, Louis P. Hill is the first such official to take a leave in the current campaign.
Hill, a Democratic Party senatorial candidate who now holds the appointive office of St. Thomas and Water Island administrator, apparently caught other Democratic officials by surprise. And both he and they said they had no knowledge of reports circulating that the governor would name Rosalia Payne, former district schools superintendent, as interim administrator.
Hill is one of seven persons running for senator from the St. Thomas-St. John district on the Democratic ticket. Because there are seven district seats in the Legislature, there will be no party primary race for the Senate on Sept. 14.
On Aug. 26, the day before classes were to resume for the new academic year, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull announced that he had removed Payne as district schools superintendent. Government House officials made a point the following morning of saying that Payne had been "removed," not "fired," and that she would be reassigned, with her reassignment to be announced. To date, there has been no such announcement.
Hill, speaking Tuesday morning on a WVWI Radio talk show hosted by June Archibald, said, "I think it's the right and ethical thing to do. It doesn't seem to me that you can actually campaign for office and work for the government at the same time." As a government employee he added, "You're being paid by the taxpayers' money; the least you can do is give them a full eight hours."
Legislation sponsored by Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. and passed by the Legislature in January on an override of a Turnbull veto eliminated the legal requirement that government employees take leave from their jobs while running for office. White said at the time that a campaign can be run "after hours and on weekends." However, District Judge Thomas K. Moore earlier this month said in a bench ruling that the new law — which also cut off electioneering as of 2 a.m. on voting days and addressed the government's role in conducting primary elections — was unconstitutional.
That would appear to indicate that the previous V.I. Code provision is once again in force. It specifies that V.I. government employees running for public office take a leave of absence from their jobs from the date of filing as candidates until the election (the primary election, if they are elminated at that stage).
Besides Hill, however, the Source was unable to find any other government employee who has gone on leave in order to campaign for this fall's elections.
In addition to incumbent public officials seeking re-election, current officials running for office include Lt. Guv. Gerard Luz James II, who is running for governor, and Maryleen Thomas, director of banking and insurance in the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, who is her boss's running mate.
Asked Tuesday if she planned to step down from her post during the campaign, Thomas did not immediately reply. She told a Source reporter that she would call back with a comment.
Meantime, radio talk show reports that Payne would be named as Hill's successor could not be unconfirmed. Hill said, "I don't know of anyone the governor has appointed to my former post. I think that was an unsubstantiated rumor."
Government House spokesman Lee Vanterpool said on Tuesday morning that he knew of no such appointment. Acknowledging that "there have been rumors on the street" of the governor naming Payne to the administrator's job, Vanterpool said on Tuesday evening, "I have no official word about who is replacing Louis Hill. I don't know anything about Rosalia Payne's name." He added, "We want to hold off on that until we hear from the governor."
Turnbull traveled to New York for the Labor Day weekend; as of Tuesday he had not returned to the territory.
Hill said on Archibald's morning talk show regarding the administrator's office, "To the best of my knowledge, the post remains open."
O'Bryan, the governor's assistant for public affairs, told the Source on Tuesday afternoon that Hill was on personal leave "which consists of his vacation time and any comp time he had accrued while working in the Office of the Administrator." O'Bryan said he did not know how much leave time Hill had accrued.
According to O'Bryan, the only information he had on Hill's leave-taking was what Hill announced on the radio on Tuesday morning. Hill, in his broadcast comments, also said, "It would be nice if Jimmy O'Bryan would make a statement to clarify the issue." But O'Bryan said around 4 p.m. that there was no statement to release.
Asked whether the governor had decided to appoint a replacement for Hill while he was on leave, O'Bryan noted that Turnbull was still off island from the New York trip. The matter would have to be addressed on Wednesday when the governor returned, O'Bryan said.
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