Oct. 28, 2002 – A demand last Thursday by Innovative Communication Corp. that the chair of the Public Services Commission relinquish his seat has raised questions about ICC's organization and its relationship to Innovative Telephone, which the PSC regulates.
ICC attorney Kevin Rames wrote the commission charging that its chair, attorney Desmond Maynard, is unable to act without bias in matters related to Innovative Telephone because he represents a former Virgin Islands Daily News photographer who is suing both the newspaper and its parent company, which is ICC.
The letter contends that Maynard's representation of Hillary Hodge constitutes a conflict of interest because in his capacity of PSC chair, he is privy to certain confidential information about Innovative Telephone, which also is a subsidiary of ICC.
Rames said Maynard recently asked the court to extend the Hodge suit to include ICC and its owner, Jeffrey Prosser, as defendants after learning that "the payroll decisions of the Daily News are actually made or approved by ICC."
He charged that Maynard would stand to win a lot more money if ICC and Prosser were to lose the case.
Subsequently, Rames said, the confidential financial information of the parent company and its relationships with its subsidiaries, including the Daily News, have been made a "matter of significant concern" in Hodge's case.
He also said Maynard is working on the lawsuit with a St. Croix attorney, Lee Rohn, who represents three other former Daily News employees suing the newspaper and its parent company, alleging unlawful discharge.
"Vitelco is not one of the defendants in the Hodge case," Rohn pointed out Monday, referring to Innovative Telephone by the acronym of its former name, V.I. Telephone Corp. "Vitelco is the only PSC company in question. In every other case involving ICC or the Daily News, Prosser has claimed that the companies are all independent of each other; now they've taken a totally contrary position."
Indeed, in a motion to dismiss a complaint filed by Penny Feuerzeig, former Daily News executive editor, ICC denied that it owns the newspaper and said that it is owned by The Daily News Publishing Co. The motion also said ICC did not purchase the newspaper but did purchase its stock in 1997.
"As such, neither defendant [Prosser or ICC] was the employer of the plaintiff at the time of her resignation," the motion said.
Rohn said ICC has contended that it is a separate entity from the telephone company in other court documents. Rames's letter "seems to indicate that the affidavits filed with the courts are a misrepresentation or the letter is a misrepresentation," she said.
"In his zealousness to come after Mr. Maynard, he has apparently shot himself in the proverbial foot," Rohn said.
Rames pointed out that Maynard supported a move to open Innovative Telephone's "confidential financial information," in the form of its financial reports, to the media. The PSC, in opposition to the chair, voted in September against making the reports public.
Subsequently, The Source, citing the local and federal Freedom of Information Acts, requested in writing earlier this month that the PSC make public the financial reports of all regulated utilities in the territory.
Phone company delays paying assessments
Maynard also has been a major player in the PSC's push for Innovative Telephone to pay the commission more than $600,000 it has been assessed since May 2001 for rate investigation costs. At its Sept. 30 meeting, the commission ordered the phone company to pay $400,000 of the amount by Oct. 4. The deadline passed with no payment.
Attorney Frederick Watts, hearing examiner for the PSC's Innovative Telephone rate investigation, said Monday that the company delivered a check for $75,000 on Friday, along with a promise to make additional payments. It earlier paid $75,000 and so now has paid $150,000 toward the total. According to V.I. law, Watts said, the company had to make the payment immediately. He said it would be up to the PSC to impose any sanctions against the company.
Regarding ICC's complaint against Maynard, Sen. Emmett Hansen II, an ex-officio PSC member, said the commission should avoid even an appearance of impropriety. "We have to avoid that at all costs. It's a small community and a very small professional class when you look at the people who perform certain tasks," he said.
Attorneys in the Virgin Islands who are free of what may be considered a conflict of interest where ICC is concerned are difficult to come by, according to Rohn.
"Early on," she said, Prosser "attempted to hire virtually every attorney on the island [of St. Croix] so they would all be conflicted out — including me," she said. "He asked if I would be willing to do some of his 'First Amendment work.'
"In the beginning, he had everybody doing a little something," Rohn continued. "I saw what he was doing early on, and was very careful not to do any work for him."
Innovative Telephone is the subject of two hearings this week before the Senate Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Committee. Its chair, Sen. Adelbert Bryan, said the focus of the sessions, Thursday on St. Croix and Friday on St. Thomas, will be on whether the company is in compliance with requirements for its Economic Development Commission tax benefits.
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