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Senator Says Feds Disrespectful to Virgin Islanders

Jan. 26, 2005 – Sen. Celestino White and Franke Hoheb, his Chief of Staff, expressed displeasure Wednesday at the way officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development treated Hoheb and another aide while attending a HUD press conference Tuesday.
Hoheb, who claims to have arrived at the V.I. Housing Authority building "precisely" at the scheduled noontime, found himself locked out of the press conference where HUD Assistant Secretary Michael Liu announced that Jose Bosque would replace Donna Ayala as the territory's receiver. (See " Housing Authority Gets New Boss From HUD ").
This was also the case for a reporter from the St. Croix Avis and a reporter from WSTA Lucky 13, who Hoheb said came shortly after him.
However, the Source reporter, representatives from other media and a representative of Sen. Liston Davis, who all arrived before noon, were not met with any restrictions from the HUD staff from participating in the press conference.
Hoheb said that after fifteen minutes of ranting and raving by one reporter to be let in, Donna White, HUD public affairs specialist, came out and told them the press conference was already going on and they would have to wait until it was over to speak with HUD Assistant Secretary Michael Liu.
Hoheb said when he spoke to Liu after the conference and found out it was about Ayala's replacement he was "dumbfounded."
"I was wondering where was the beef," Hoheb said. "I didn't see the need for the big, grandiose announcement."
Hoheb said he was of the belief that the HUD officials just wanted to get away from the cold and held the press conference as a reason to come to the Virgin Islands. He added a simple press release would have done.
White, who had to rearrange his schedule to allow Hoheb to attend the press conference, which they found out was taking place on Monday, was "livid" when he found out about his chief of staff's experience. White is the chairman of the Senate Housing, Sports and Veterans Affairs Committee and also had to attend the groundbreaking ceremony of the Veterans Multipurpose Center.
"This is an insult of the highest magnitude to the Legislature, the 24,000 local public housing tenants and all the citizens of the Virgin Islands," White said in his release issued Wednesday. "I cannot tell you how things were run under the previous housing committee chairman, but we will not stand by and be railroaded while things continue to get worse for our public housing tenants."
Hoheb said when he asked Liu whether a HUD representative would attend the Housing Committee's meeting on Feb. 17, Liu told him "under no condition" would anyone from HUD come to the Legislature to give an overview of the Housing Authority. The most they would do would be to send a written report.
"The federal government sent 8 to 10 people here on a junket for what turns out to be a minor staff replacement and then want to say they won't meet with us," Hoheb said.
Hoheb said further that Liu did not express the need to build any new housing communities, although former receiver Ayala had told White HUD would work with the local government in constructing the Nellyberg Housing Community to replace the Warren E. Brown and Donoe housing communities that were demolished.
"They're required to construct new units when some have to be demolished," Hoheb said.
White said he would write a letter to HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson regarding the "violation of the local tenants civil rights" and the "unconstitutional barring of local media from the public press conference."
He added, "I will go as high as necessary in Washington, D.C., to insure that HUD respects our people and their constitutional rights to representation and transparency in government. VIHA in the past has been a beneficiary of local government funds. Just like we answer to the feds when we spend their money, so now they must answer to us for spending ours."
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