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Senators Attempt to Quell Furor Over Bill to Promote Unclassified Officers

June 8, 2006 — During a meeting of the Committee on Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice, senators put the brakes on a bill that sought to give promotional rewards to unclassified police officers who previously served on the governor's security detail.
"It's a morale killer to bring a bill like this forward," Sgt. Arthur Hector, president of the Law Enforcement Supervisor Union (LESU), said. He and many other testifiers presented their opposition to the bill, which was proposed by Sen. Lorraine L. Berry at the request of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull.
Police Det. Maria Colon-Petersen, Police Benevolent Association Local 816 vice president, said the PBA union received promotional letters Jan. 31 stating that four members of the governor's security detail, the Executive Security Unit (ESU), were being promoted to the rank of police corporal.
"These promotions caused a tremendous uproar in the our membership to the point that the union had to file a class-action grievance because the individuals that were being promoted were on leave without pay from the police department and in the unclassified service," Colon-Petersen said.
Colon-Petersen said supervisory positions should be given to "police officers well deserving of the rank." She said it's not fair for an officer, who becomes unclassified when serving for the ESU, to come back years later into the police force and be promoted to a higher rank than a classified officer who served for equally as long.
Colon-Petersen added that "in order to get a promotion, you must be in a classified office."
In favor of the bill, Karen Andrews, chief negotiator of the Virgin Islands, said members of the ESU should not be penalized for their service in the unit. She added that benefits, privileges, rights and promotions must remain the same for ESU members "to insure that highly qualified police officers continue to serve in the security unit."
Sen. Craig W. Barshinger said incentives should be given in order to insure there is a qualified security force for the governor but added that "it should not be done in a way that destroys the morale of the police department."
Colon-Petersen agreed by saying "Why promote individuals who cannot supervise others?"
Sen. Ronald Russell said the bill undermines the union. He told Andrews, "we are not going to violate the structure of the police department."
The committee motioned to hold the bill for further consideration.
Barshinger closed by saying, "There would be structural harm done to the police department if this bill were enacted as is."
Senators also took up the matter of funding the Pesticide Control Act of 2006. The bill, proposed by Sen. Neville A. James, attempts to regulate chemical use for the control of insects, fungi and weeds.
If enacted, the bill would fund a campaign designed to diminish pesticide use in the territory. In a letter to the committee, James said people must realize the harm pesticides can cause to the environment and also the community.
DPNR Division of Environmental Protection Director Aaron Hutchins testified the act requires manufacturers to register their products in the Virgin Islands and for commercial applicators to be certified before using any chemical compound.
The bill, which is supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will also fund the testing of groundwater that may be affected by the use of pesticides. Hutchins said "enacting this legislation equips the territory with the tools to control its environment and to preserve it for our prosperity. " The committee approved the bill for consideration by the Rules Committee.
The committee next considered a bill proposed by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg to appropriate $1 million to the Department of Justice for the purchase of an aircraft to transfer federal inmates between islands.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone supported the funding of the plane. "We have lost an airplane and need to do something," he said. In April 2006 a Piper Navajo owned by the V.I. Department of Justice crash landed into the sea south of St. Thomas with no fatalities (See "Pilot Recounts Miraculous Crash Landing at Sea").
Despite Malone's comments, Barshinger suggested the committee consider the matter further before approving the measure. "We must explore all our options," he said.
Barshinger proposed that the government form a small private airline for government officials and inmates. The airline would make three incoming and outgoing flights daily from St Thomas and St. Croix. "This would solve many transportation problems with one action, while saving money," he said.
"Before we spend a million dollars, we need to talk to some experts," Barshinger said. After hearing this alternative plan, the senators agreed to hold the bill until more research is performed.
The committee then considered a bill proposed by Malone to put time limits on parking spaces reserved for persons with disabilities. "Many physically disabled people in the community have contacted me with concern about finding parking spots," Malone said.
Barshinger questioned how this law would be enforced. Malone replied that "like any law, there would be rules and regulations." Malone added that parking times would be monitored and citations would be issued for violators. The senators agreed that lack of parking for the disabled was a problem and forwarded the bill to the Rules Committee.

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