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Sunday, February 5, 2023
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Some Changes Have to Be Made

Dear Source:
Again, I congratulate Mr. J. J. Estemac for his insightful dialog on election reform and municipal government issues. He is correct that some Senators may become lax if kept in office for more than a given number of years. His suggestion to limit Senators to three terms is very reasonable given the voting records of long-time Senators, and even some newly elected ones.
Yes, it is always up to the people to consider change, and to make those changes when situations become intolerable. The biggest problem we face is not so much the running platforms and records of Senators, which is, of course, the reason we elect and re-elect in the first place, but the apathy or ignorance of the electorate who have not taken the time, nor given the energy to find out which of the many issues before, them affect their very lives. Many people do get involved and they should be commended, including those running for elected office but many people, often the ones who complain the loudest, allow the staus quo. Thus, the problem.
My primary issue is municipal government. I certainly have other issues that I care deeply about but I look at the formation of municipalities as the starting point to curing these issues and the ills that plague the Virgin Islands in terms of fiscal responsibility and the way in which we live our lives. One of the misconseptions that people have about muncipal government is that it will create another layer of government, thus making their lives even more complicated. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Estemac asks that we create local government that has reresentative power so that sub-districting can be a reality. I agree with that on principal but I believe strongly that we should go even further.
The Constitutional Convention will commence July of 2007. The wording that the electors will consider for the new Constitution is so critical that it may be the single-most important document created in the entire history of the government. Certainly, there will be discussions on municipal government and how the creation of those entities will be included in the Constitution by law. To simply have redistricting would be folly in my opinion because it WILL create another layer of government even though there will be some level of local control. We would still have the territorial government, albeit the Senate, making decisions about our lives even though representation is somewhat more locallized. The wording of the Constitution should allow TRUE municipal government. If the new Constitution passes the necessary scrutiny of the the President of the United States and the Congress of the United States, then it will be returned to the people of the Virgin islands for final ratification. If passed by the electorate, we will live with it forever so we must be careful about what it says.
The Constitution, in addition to a Bill of Rights, should contain language about district reprsentation, education reform, term limits, how we preserve our natural resources, how we distribute and utilize public lands, how we govern, budget ceilings, how we tax and create debt and, of course municipal government. Municipal government is coequal to any of the other important subject within the language of the Constitution. What we face in creating a Constitution of our own doing is the need to get it right for ourselves and for all future generations. We have to, the future depends on it.
True municipal government is one where each incorporated entity carrys out the day to day activities of a locallity. It could be a whole island or portion thereof. Municipal officers are elected by the residents of that population, at the pleasure of the residents. Monies created within the municipality stays there for use by the residents. The Constitution must provide a mechanism whereby those programs that are mandated by the central government will be filtered down to the municipality to carry out those mandates. Most importantly, the municipality must have a constitution and by-laws of its own making that meet the needs of the populace for the present and for the future. Only locals can decide the issues that they face. A central government never could know what the intricacies of a local population, only locals can. Some say having municipal government is a threat to the unity of the Virgin Islands as a whole. This cannot be true if each island has the same law governing them. It is up to the people to decide if they want to have local representation or allow the central government to control all functions of their lives. If municipalities were to lawfully exist, there will be a starting point. It could be on St Croix, St Thomas or St John. The point is, the law will allow it but its up to locals to decide.
I am all for local representation, including electing Senators who truly represent their constituents by creating sub-districts. We do not need more Senators, in fact we must reduce those numbers soley because the Constitution allows locals to govern themselves. Senators then, would have only one critical job-to ensure their constituents that they receive the money for the programs they need to survive on their own. Reduced central government is absolutely critical. Municipal government means fewer government workers. Taking what used to be a central government job and making it a municipal position would greatly reduce the overall size of government in general, resulting in cost savings for all.
The elections are on November 7. If you truly want self-determination, then vote for those candidates who stand for that. The Constitutional Convention delegates will be elected in less than a year. Be sure you understand the issues that are important to you before you choose your candidates and insist that the electors include them in their deliberations. In about a year and a half, the Constitution will be ready to send to the President and Congress. What do you want it to say? It will not be a document that simply replaces the Organic Act. It will be and should be more. Make sure it includes whats important to you. Don't let the powers that be write it for you. Stay involved and know what is going on or we just may have a document that makes our lives even less tolerable.
Paul Devine
St John

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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