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ICC, PSC Deny Secret Agreement as Hill Calls for Committee of the Whole Meeting

Oct. 17, 2006 — Sen. Louis P. Hill is continuing his quest to bring the members of the Public Services Commission before the Legislature to query them about their secret support of a plan that would allow phone company owner Jeffery Prosser to use the V.I. Telephone Co. (Vitelco) to finance a $470 million bankruptcy settlement with three of his creditors.
During a Finance Committee meeting Tuesday, Hill said he is once again calling upon Senate President Lorraine L. Berry to convene a Committee of the Whole hearing that would bring PSC board members forward to discuss the issue. Hill said he is not trying to discredit the PSC, but rather "trying to get to the bottom of " the matter.
Referencing reports in an Oct. 16 Source story, Hill said, "There are two scenarios we need to explore: Either that the signature on the letter from Alecia Wells was forged, or that the ICC (Innovative Communication Corp.) lawyers were lying in the court documents."
The Source has obtained a signed copy of a letter from Wells to Vitelco President David Sharp giving the full support of the PSC to use Vitelco's assets to fund the $470 settlement (See "Attorney Asks PSC to Subpoena Key Players in ICC Bankruptcy Agreement as Signed Letter Comes to Light").
Hill's first request to Berry, made earlier this month, was denied. The Source reported on Oct. 13 that Berry, after consulting with the Legislature's chief legal counsel Yvonne Tharpes, said that convening a Committee of the Whole meeting would be "problematic" (See "Senate President Denies Request to Investigate PSC's Role in ICC Bankruptcy").
However, Hill said Tuesday that the legal counsel's opinion does not say that a Committee of the Whole hearing cannot be called. "The Committee of the Whole has the same powers as any other committee, and certainly has jurisdiction in this matter," he said.
Hill's opinion was confirmed by Augustin Ayala, assistant legislative counsel, who said that a majority of senators could vote to convene a Committee of the Whole hearing. "There are no limitations on the subject matter, except that senators cannot discuss matters pending before the Legislature, such as bills," Ayala said.
He added that senators could also petition the Senate president to call a Committee of the Whole hearing.
Hill, joined by Sens. Roosevelt C. David and Juan Figueroa-Serville — both ex-officio members of the PSC — stated that "some type of meeting needs to be called" to "examine the facts."
At least one community member agrees. Local activist Jason Budsan has joined the charge and is also requesting that Berry call a Committee of the Whole hearing. In a letter to Berry dated Oct. 17, Budsan writes, "It would be proper, and not improper to convene aninvestigative hearing on any necessary issue that affects the public. Transparency in government is critical. The Committee of the Whole is a standing committee and as such has jurisdiction in this matter concerning the Public Services Commission or any other matters if feels necessary."
During Tuesday's meeting, Hill said that David has been tapped to hold a Government Operations and Consumer Protection Committee meeting to discuss the issue.
The Source was unable to reach Berry for comment on the matter Tuesday evening.
Representatives from both the PSC and Innovative Communication Corp. have denied that the PSC has given its approval to such an agreement. In a press release issued by ICC Tuesday, Holland Redfield III, Innovative's vice president of corporate affairs, wrote the "PSC has not even considered, much less approved, any refinancing plans currently being contemplated by Innovative."
He added that Wells' letter could not be interpreted as a "secret agreement" since it has "no force or effect."
Attorney Jeffery Moorhead, legal counsel to the PSC, also issued a release Tuesday, stating that the "opinion of this commission remains that the allegations are baseless in fact and merit no serious response from anyone."

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