The V.I. Legislature approved attorney Terri Griffiths, Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s former attorney general and former personal legal counsel, to the Magens Bay Authority on Thursday, albeit with some hesitation.
The Magens Bay Authority has statutory authority to appoint members to itself and has said it prefers to reappoint a member whose term has expired. But Mapp contended, when he nominated Griffiths, that the authority missed its time window to reappoint member Aubrey Nelthropp and so he had legal authority to nominate a member instead.
Asked for an opinion, the Legislature’s legal counsel agreed with Mapp’s interpretation of the law. (See Related Links below)
Senators’ concerns were not about Griffiths herself, but about the process.
"What this speaks to is a total breakdown of communication between the governor and his board," Sen. Positive Nelson said. He also said he did not want to get in the middle of the dispute and that he would vote to support Griffiths.
Sen. Janette Millin Young similarly said she did not want to interfere with the board’s self-governance.
"The board has pled with us. They have begged us not to mess with the mix," Millin Young said. "Even though she (Griffiths) is extremely qualified, she is not a good mix," she said.
Others felt they needed to support a qualified nominee.
“The Magens Bay Authority fell asleep,” Sen. Neville James said. “The window was there and they didn’t act. And the governor acted," James said.
Voting in favor of Griffiths’ nomination were James, Nelson, Sen. Marvin Blyden, Jean Forde, Clifford Graham, Kenneth Gittens, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Sammuel Sanes, Kurt Vialet, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly and Novelle Francis. Voting no were Millin Young, Sens. Justin Harrigan, Tregenza Roach and Myron Jackson.
Senators also voted to approve Michelle Davis to serve as commissioner of health, but some expressed concern over paying Davis more than other commissioners are allowed. Davis is on loan from the federal government under a federal program and the territory is paying the equivalent of her former federal salary.
“With respect to Dr. Davis, I don’t think I heard any senator question her impeccable credentials,” James said. “The issue is her salary and the fact that she is on loan from the federal government.”
“If in fact, the position pays $128,000 and her salary is $150,000, at least going forward, let us give the governor the legislative mandate and not allow him to have free reign so we can language legislation that will say we are prepared to pay everything that the law allows for us to pay and that, if in fact, the governor wants to bring an employee on loan from the federal government, that they will make up the difference.”
Millin Young also spoke about Davis’ salary.
“I would say that voting for you and having you as commissioner of Health is a great investment,” she said. “I have been at the forefront regarding this salary issue and I’m not going to make it an issue today because whether the raises are sustainable or not, my word last year was, think about the rank-and-file employees. Rank-and-file employees are beginning to get their raises so I will give you a pass today.”
Roach, who was the sole no vote, disagreed.
“I might have supported it if the government team that went to negotiate it with the federal government came back with something that reflected some kind of cost sharing on the part of the federal government but they did not. And so our local government is going to pay the full salary of $150,000,” Roach said.
Senators voted unanimously to approve Renee Gumbs-Carty, currently the deputy attorney general, to be a V.I. Superior Court judge. It also unanimously approved Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks for a second term.
In other business, the Legislature approved a bill appropriating $135,000 from the Tourism Revolving Advertising Fund to the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation for the Virgin Islands Little League to participate in the 2016 baseball regional tournaments. It also approved a major coastal zone permit (CZT- 8-14 (W)) for Mike Edison Fabian. The permit allows Fabian to continue to use a dock and water seaward of Parcel Nos. 103 & 108 Estate Frydenhoj, St. Thomas.