I write as one member of the community of citizens who participated in intense discussions on the introduction of video lottery terminals in the St. Thomas-St. John district, and I note that, over many weeks, the VLT issue was on the forefront of community issues throughout the territory. The public was aware of claims and counterclaims of the principals involved in contracting for this service.
As an active participant in discussions on this matter, I followed the issue on the airwaves and throughout the community. In fact, I participated in a written campaign to influence one senator on the matter and to urge an examination of the proliferation of gambling in the territory generally. Like other citizen-participants in early discussions, I learned that the matter was finally before the Territorial Court, and I awaited a determination by that court.
This was especially important to me since I thought it unwise for the 25th Legislature to enter the fray prior to a determination by the court, by repealing the law that was created when the 24th Legislature overrode Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's veto. To avoid the possibility of incurring a cost to the territory for walking away from the new law that was created by the 24th Legislature, I felt that the 25th Legislature needed to remain outside of the entanglement until the court's deliberation was completed.
Perhaps the problem is more complicated than that, though. It might be that the current structure of the Virgin Islands government under the federal Organic Act does not allow for legislation by district as is currently in practice with the approval of casino gambling for St. Croix and postponement of the same in the St. Thomas-St. John district until some future date.
Whatever the explanation, the public waited patiently to hear the results of the claims and counterclaims, only to hear that the matter is settled between the parties and that the terms of the settlement remain under seal based upon the terms agreed to by the parties. The public's participation in this matter has been set aside without a thorough explanation of the rationale for this action by the parties. In the absence of information to the contrary, this decision invites conjecture by the public.
If we wish to promote the civic life of our community by encouraging citizen participation in discussing public issues, the public should be given more information to aid in the development of informed opinions. Many questions remain unanswered in the silence surrounding the settlement. Some of them are:
– Did Southland Gaming have a valid contract or not?
– Has the override of the gubernatorial veto of the VLT law by the 24th Legislature created a financial liability for the government if the governor's request for a repeal of that legislation should be approved by the 25th Legislature?
– Was Southland correct when it claimed that Gov. Turnbull agreed with the VLT proposal initially?
– Is Southland authorized to continue placement of its machines in public places in the St. Thomas-St. John district?
– Is there a need for remedial legislation to correct past legislative and/or executive actions on the proliferation of gambling in the territory?
– Does the settlement include the expenditure of public funds?
– What lessons are to be learned from the manner in which this transaction was handled and ultimately disposed of?
Virgin Islanders need exposure to these complex issues, and we can learn from discussions about them and how they are resolved. It is important to note that it was the public that kept the issue alive and in the forefront of discussions over a period of several months. It is this same public that is now being deprived of knowing the terms of the settlement!
As delicate as this matter might be, someone in authority should address it publicly and assuage the curiosity of a segment of the community.
Editor's note: St. Thomas resident Gaylord A. Sprauve is a retired V.I. government administrator.
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