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Delegates Outnumber Residents at Constitutional Convention Meeting

Feb. 6, 2008 — With eight of the nine delegates on the Legislative Branch Committee of the Constitutional Convention attending Wednesday's meeting at the Legislature, they outnumbered by one the number of residents who turned out — not counting reporters.
St. John resident Larry Best, one of three people who testified, chalked the poor attendance up to St. John's negative feelings about government. He said that all of St. John not on the Sirenusa payroll — black, white, rich, poor, born in the Virgin Islands, and born elsewhere — opposed a variance that gave the Sirenusa condominium developers the right to expand the project, but the Legislature gave it to them anyway.
"It was taken away from us," he said. "We're not too keen on government."
Melville Samuel, another testifier, said senators told him they passed the Sirenusa bill because the government needed the revenue the additional units would generate.
"But that revenue is not coming back to St. John," Samuel said.
St. John residents don't come out because the decisions are made for them on St. Thomas by people who have very little knowledge about St. John, he said.
The other testifier, Paul Devine, called it apathy.
"People don't want to get involved," he said.
Those three made it clear they want municipal government.
"There's no reason the Legislature should determine zoning changes," Best said. "It has to be done by local government."
To comply with federal law that mandates proportional representation, St. John would have one senator with St. Thomas and St. Croix each having 10, said Devine, who has penned a draft constitution and ran unsuccessfully to serve as a Constitutional Convention delegate. He further suggested that St. Thomas and St. Croix be divided into 10 wards each by population. St. John would have one ward.
"The senators would be elected from that ward," Devine said.
The Legislature should apportion the wards, with a reapportionment done every 10 years, he said.
Devine also called for a Legislature that meets for a maximum of 90 days a year. He said 46 of the 50 states have part-time legislatures. He suggested a maximum of two four-year terms for senators.
Samuel called for 11 senators, with five for St. Thomas, five for St. Croix and one for St. John. Voters should set their salaries, he said.
He was particularly incensed that lame-duck Legislatures get to vote for salary increases for the subsequent Legislature, governor and lieutenant governor. Lame duck Legislatures shouldn't get to pass any legislation, Samuel said.
Constitutional Convention Delegate Clement "Cain" Magras, a former senator, said he liked Samuel's thoughts on the lame-duck legislature, but said it would be necessary for the senators to meet in case of an emergency such as a hurricane.
Samuel also called for a chief operating officer to monitor the territory's finances.
"You can't pay the teachers and millions of dollars are stolen," said Samuel, a retired teacher.
He also complained about the expensive vehicle sitting outside the Legislature that rarely get used because the Senate president doesn't make many trips to St. John.
"If the Senate president needs to come to St. John, hire a vehicle or borrow one from the administrator," Samuel said.
The Legislative Branch Committee will meet at 7 p.m. Feb 20 at the Legislature on St. Thomas and at 7 p.m. March 5 at the University of the Virgin Islands' Great Hall on St. Croix.
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