March 10, 2004 – Senators spent much of Wednesday reconstructing a large part of the 2004 Omnibus Bill that they had passed last year only to see Gov. Charles W. Turnbull pare it by more than half with line-item vetoes two days before Christmas.
The lawmakers created their own Christmas in March on Wednesday as they overrode the majority of those vetoes, many on unanimous votes.
Sen. Carlton Dowe led off, proposing an override of the vetoed $1.3 million to fund the reopening of the Dorothea and Bordeaux fire stations on St. Thomas, the hiring of 24 firefighters for the St. Thomas-St. John district, the creation of two fire captain positions for St. Croix, the restoring of one fire captain for St. Thomas-St. John, the implementation of firefighters' promotions, and the hiring of six emergency medical technicians each for St. Croix and St. Thomas and two for St. John.
Several members of St. Thomas's Northside Civic Association, dressed in red, and several firefighters beamed at the successful vote.
Ironically, Government House issued a release on Wednesday night announcing that Turnbull had spent three hours of the day meeting with his cabinet, other agency heads and their top financial officers addressing the "immediate implementation of new financial controls … intended to improve financial accountability and prevent overspending and unauthorized payroll and financial expenditures."
The release stated that the new procedure "will prevent agencies from inputting biweekly payroll information into the financial management system once it has been determined that the allotment level is exceeded."'
Turnbull was quoted as saying at the meeting that "I believe we have the brain power and resolve in this room to do what must be done to impose fiscal discipline on ourselves and not have to have anyone from anywhere and any board … come here and do it for us." His reference evidently was to bills introduced by Delegate Donna M. Christensen in Congress to create a chief financial officer to serve for five years and by Sen. Lorraine Berry in the Legislature to create a financial review board.
Nathan Simmonds, director of the governor's Office of Fiscal and Economic Recovery Implementation, warned at the meeting "that it would be fiscally irresponsible for legislation to be passed that would place additional recurring obligations on the General Fund that future revenues could not sustain," the release stated.
The Senate's other overrides on Wednesday included the governor's December vetoes of:
– The Technology Enterprise Act of 2003, a measure comprising more than half of the original Omnibus Bill. It calls for establishment of a Bureau of Information Technology and implementation of a comprehensive technology strategy for the government.
– A far-reaching plan to consolidate certain government departments, including Health with Human Services.
– Legislation establishing a semi-autonomous Office of the Territorial Public Defender.
– Transfer of the housing section of the Housing, Parks and Recreation Department to the Housing Finance Authority.
– Transfer of the Office of Collective Bargaining from the Office of the Governor to the Personnel Division.
– Transfer of the Corporations and Trademarks Division of the Lieutenant Governor's Office to the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department.
The overrides consumed much of the morning session, as some of the nominees up for Senate confirmation and their families sat patiently in a crowded gallery.
Six nominations confirmed
The nomination of Darlene Carty as Health commissioner was unanimously and wholeheartedly approved as many of her family members looked on. All of the senators had good wishes for Carty; some also had advice, Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste among them. "Think of yourself as a matchstick," he told her. "You are going to burn, and get burned. But, as you burn, light up the Health Department."
Sen. Usie Richards told her: "I know what kind of job you will do; I have worked with you for 18 years in the Health Department. I commend the governor's decision."
The Senate also approved the nominations of:
– Cheryl Boynes-Jackson to the Water and Power Authority board.
– Devin Carrington to the Casino Control Commission.
– Jose Penn to the Economic Development Authority board.
– Leslie Milliner to another term on the Port Authority board.
– Bernard Paiewonsky to another term on the University of the Virgin Islands board.
Judge Audrey Thomas's nomination to the UVI board also was up for consideration; however, a vote on the matter was postponed to Thursday after Sen. Ronald Russell sought a ruling by the Legislature's legal counsel on whether a judge serving on the board constituted a conflict of interest.
Four resolutions adopted
The Senate also adopted the resolutions:
– To honor Alfred H. "Freddy" Lockhart for his contributions as an educator, author, historian, musician, artist and cultural ambassador, and for his contributions to the V.I. Carnival Committee.
– To honor Verna Elise Christian Garcia for her accomplishments and contributions to the government and people of the Virgin Islands.
– To honor JoSandra Jones-James upon her retirement from the Education Department, for her contributions to the Virgin Islands and her decades of service and devotion to the music education of young people and adults.
– To honor the Mu Eta chapter of Chi Eta Phi Sorority on its hosting of the 2004 Southeast Region conference, and to proclaim next week Chi Eta Phi Sorority Nursing Week.
One resolution that received near-unanimous rejection was Russell's proposal to move the territorial capital to St. Croix. It bit the dust on a 13-1 vote, with Russell voting yes and Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg absent.
The resolution would have petitioned Congress to amend the Revised Organic Act to allow the people of the Virgin Islands through the Legislature to determine where the capital should be located.
With the exception of Russell, the senators said keeping the capital on St. Thomas suited them just fine. As Russell, a Crucian, pleaded his case — suggesting that the Legislature Building in Charlotte Amalie be made into a museum, a tourist attraction — he got less and less support.
Moving the capital and several key government agencies to St. Croix would relieve traffic congestion on St. Thomas and leave it to accommodate "eight cruise ships and 10,000 passengers," Russell said. He also said the move would mend the "imbalance" between the two islands.
Jn Baptiste, also a Crucian, was incredulous. "We are not going to be handicapped by our stupidity," he said. "Why not move Washington, D.C., to Alaska because it's larger? This defies logic. It's as if he has one ear tuned to Mars and the other to Venus." However, Jn Baptiste had some conciliatory words, too: "Russell has been a good friend of mine for years. He used to drive me around in his funny little car. But I won't take the Russell train."
Speaking to reporters later, Russell seemed unfazed by his colleagues' total rejection of his bill. "They could be wrong," he said with a smile, adding: "I can't believe the St. Croix senators could have voted against this."
Seven bills yet to come
Wednesday's deliberations concluded after 7 p.m. The session is to resume on Thursday with a packed agenda including action on seven bills, notable among them the long-debated and recently toned-down bill to create a Tourism Advisory Board.
– To confer peace-officer status on investigators of the Office of Inspector General and to provide for enforcement officers in the V.I. Lottery.
– To appropriate $100,000 to renovate the Cruz Bay dinghy dock.
– To reduce the number of UVI board members appointed by the governor and to provide for a member representing UVI alumni to be elected by t
– To establish the Youth Challenge Program and to authorize it to award participants adult high school diplomas, and for other purposes.
– To amend the V.I. Code to clarify prior legislative intent regarding setting senators' salaries at $65,000, and not at the lowest level of any commissioner.
– To implement a surtax on hotel rooms and time-share occupancy, to establish a Tourism Board, and for other purposes.
– To appropriate $200,000 from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund to the Cadastral Division of the Lieutenant Governor's Office for the creation of new St. John property maps.
Additional coverage of Wednesday's deliberations will be published on Thursday.
All senators attended the session except Donastorg, who was excused.
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