Dec. 18, 2003 – Delegate Donna M. Christensen replied Thursday afternoon to a resolution adopted by the Legislature on Wednesday condemning her action in drafting federal legislation to establish the position of chief financial officer and set up a financial management system in the territory.
"It seems like such a waste of legislative time to do a resolution like that and condemn an action when there are so many unanswered questions about the fiscal state of the territory out there," Christensen said. "I remember clearly when the governor first sent the budget to the Legislature he said we were in 'bad times.' And he suggested a 36-hour work week and laying people off. And I remember his cabinet members saying, 'Yes, it's that serious.'"
The bill she introduced in Congress on Nov. 21 would give the CFO control of the V.I. government's purse strings for five years. The integrated financial management system would remain in place to track the territory's fiscal operations permanently. (See "Federal OK sought for CFO, financial system".)
During Wednesday's full Senate session, Sen. Emmett Hansen II special-ordered a resolution to the floor condemning the delegate's action and won the support of 12 colleagues for it. Nine of the 10 Senate Democrats endorsed the resolution directed against Christensen, a fellow Democrat; the 10th, Sen. Ronald Russell, abstained. Voting against the measure were two minority members, Sens. Usie Richards and Celestino A. White Sr.
A resolution does not have the power of law; this one calls on Congress to reject outright the idea of a CFO for the Virgin Islands.
"It takes us back to colonialism," Hansen said of the delegate's action. "It's ridiculous. It would change my life and the life of my family. It's unconscionable. She did this without consulting anyone, anywhere. We must have input, and I condemn they way the bill was introduced. How can this be introduced in Congress?"
Christensen pointed out that she had announced her intentions publicly months ago. "There is not one member of the Legislature who didn't know of this," she said. "I really considered sending the bill to the Legislature and to the governor, but I knew they would say, 'Don't introduce it.'"
Having no say in the matter galled other senators as well as Hansen. Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste said: "Essentially, what she is saying is that all 15 of us are a bunch of idiots." He said that the legislators are "not condemning the delegate, but her actions. She is imposing a colonial status."
Russell was among several senators who objected to the word "condemn" in the resolution. "It isn't the right language," he said. "We should say we 'object to and strongly oppose' the action."
Sen. Lorraine Berry offered an amendment to substitute "object strongly" for "condemn," but the motion failed.
Berry also used the occasion to bring up her own plan for addressing the territory's fiscal crisis, a plan for which she has found little support within the majority. "If the governor vetoes any part of the budget, I hope you will consider a financial control board," she said. "I will put it on the agenda."
Christensen's response on Thursday was: "I am disappointed in how they are dealing with it. This is not the only approach that can be taken, but I'm offering mine. They can offer theirs. I am taking mine to the people of the V.I. … They are condemning it at a time when I am seeking the advice and consent of the V.I. people. I am out asking people what they think."
The first of three town meetings she has called this month on her proposal took place Wednesday night on St. Croix. She said the response at that gathering was positive.
The second meeting is taking place Thursday night on St. Thomas, beginning at 6 p.m. in the conference room of the Holiday Inn Windward Passage Hotel.
A third meeting is set for St. John, at 10 a.m. Saturday in the conference room of the Legislature Building in Cruz Bay.
Her legislation does not harken back to colonialism, Christensen said. "Any city mayor faced with a similar crisis has the federal government step in," she said. "It's not an indictment of an individual; it's a systemic problem. It shouldn't be taken personally. It can help them to do what need to be done to protect the people."
The territory's top Democrat, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, also has been vehement in his disapproval of her move, declaring that "we can manage ourselves."
Former lieutenant governor and gubernatorial candidate Derek Hodge in an Open Forum letter to the Source argued against the creation of a chief financial officer as a unilateral amendment of the Organic Act, a narrow reaction to a broad problem, an idea destined to be ineffective, and a concept that would allow every candidate for governor in 2006 to escape financial accountability.
Christensen said she has a "sense of foreboding" about the territory's future. "If I get that sense, I feel compelled to do something about it," she said. "You have to address things pro-actively."
As a physician, she added, "I would much rather be healing patients than be in politics."
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