The Source asked every senatorial candidate ten questions, to fairly give every candidate an opportunity to tell our readers about themselves where they stand on some of the most pressing issues of the day. You can see all the candidates’ responses and more election news here.
Milton Potter is currently the executive director of the V.I. Board of Education. He is running to represent St. Thomas on the Democratic Party ticket. Born in the British Virgin Islands on Tortola, Potter was raised on St. Thomas. He has a master’s in school psychology and a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Florida A&M University.
Early in his career, Milton served as a School Psychologist and Counselor at Florida State University in Tallahassee Florida. He also served as project counselor for the Upward Bound Program at the University of the Virgin Islands where he served as an advisor, counselor, and role model to high school youth. In the late 1990s, he made a career shift to the field of human resource management. He served as human resources director for the V.I. Port Authority and director of personnel for the V.I. government.
Potter volunteers as an elected member of the St. Thomas Federal Credit Union Board of Directors, where he has been president and is currently treasurer.
Here are the responses from Potter:
What will be your top priority as a legislator and why?
Potter: The Family Redemption Act of 2021 – Landmark legislation that will address a myriad of issues that negatively impact the Virgin Islands Family – from infants to senior citizens. It will require significant collaborations with the faith community, neighborhood residents and non-profits. The premise of FRA 2021 is that strengthening the family is the key to developing a stable, thriving VI community. Our focus will be on economic developing ideas, education and criminal justice reform, a fatherhood initiative and so much more.
The V.I. government had ongoing deficits before the pandemic hit and now faces a sharp loss in revenue due to a significant decrease in tourism. How can the territory avoid a fiscal shortfall that could force cuts to services and government layoffs in order to pay creditors first?
Potter: The Legislature must exercise its oversight responsibility to fast-track the large number of delayed post Irma/Maria construction projects. This will significantly spur the local economy.
How will you help make government more transparent?
Potter: I fully support expanding and fine tuning the Virgin Islands Government’s transparency website, a joint initiative by the Office of Management and Budget/Department of Finance. The site retains information for each fiscal year with links for all other GVI agencies. The general public has access to a treasure trove of information. It is vital that this information is presented in a readable, digestible format. Also, the legislature must exercise its oversite authority to glean critical information on behalf of the general public. The Legislature and media outlets must also do their part in presenting clear reliable info to the general public.
The V.I. Legislature has on many occasions enacted unfunded mandates, from mandatory swimming classes or the unfunded Durant Tower project in Frederiksted, that never occur due to the lack of funding. Will you vote for mandates that government officials have testified require funding that is not provided in the legislation?
Potter: Passing unfunded mandates is deceptive, disingenuous and misleading politics. I will do my very best to vote “no” on unfunded mandates that come before the legislature.
The territory has around 120 boards and commissions at present, most of which are unable to make quorums and many, like the Civil Rights Commission, the Maritime Academy Board, the Commission on Caribbean Cooperation and the V.I. Wage Board, have not operated in many years. Would you ever vote to create another board or commission and if so, under what circumstances?
Potter: Yes, I would vote to create another board or commission. However, the entity cannot be duplicative and must perform a vital community function. Perhaps if positions on key boards and commissions were filled, a number of community issues might be resolved.
What would you propose to address the collapse of GERS in light of the $3 billion-plus shortfall and projected exhaustion of all funds between 2020 and 2024?
Potter: Sadly, the issue of underfunding the GERS has been brewing for decades. It has not been given the type of sustained attention it requires.
• Elected officials have failed to properly fund the system based on actuarial standards over many years.
• They also saddled the GERS with numerous unfunded mandates.
• Additionally, the GERS also made a few bad investments along the way.
Our leader’s failure to act over the past two decades has put the System in peril with limited options today. However, casting blame is not a solution. Right now, nothing short of a significant infusion of cash will extend the life of the system and its 8,600 retirees.
I would immediately escalate the GERS crisis to “code red” status and convene a 5-day GERS Solutions Summit – not to be confused with a task force – with input from Governor Bryan and key members of his financial team, GERS administration, GERS consultants, Actuaries, the retiree advocacy group GRUFF, and the Virgin Islands Legislature. An experienced facilitator should be hired to guide and direct the discussion. The final product would be to derive an action plan for immediate implementation to extend the lifespan of the system by five years. This would alleviate the fear and anxiety currently experienced by government retirees and create the breathing room to identify a long-term fix, which should include changing our retirement plan from a defined benefit plan to a 401-type defined contribution plan.
Where do you stand on medicinal marijuana and what is the Senate’s role in getting it on the market and generating tax revenue?
Potter: I support the medicinal marijuana law, which was passed locally by the 32nd Legislature. To the best of my knowledge the Senate fulfilled its responsibility by providing the mandate for the establishment of a regulatory board to establish appropriate rules, regulations and guidelines. There have been issues with regard to the establishment of a full board and finalizing the aforementioned rules and regulations. Before medicinal marijuana fully got off the ground, Governor Bryan proposed the expansion of medicinal marijuana to recreational marijuana, which I support. The potential for employment opportunities for the local population and to generate new revenues for an ailing Virgin Islands Economy warrant the Senate moving with a sense of urgency to fully implement this initiative.
What fuels violent crime in the territory and what should the government, non-profit organizations and residents do to help alleviate it?
Potter: Let me say it’s complicated. Since 1990, approximately 1,500 Virgin Islanders have lost their lives due to senseless violence – 1,500 dreams never to be realized. The VI’s unsustainable crime rate is snuffing out the lives of our young men at alarming rates, holding an entire community hostage. I believe that rising crime is a manifestation of families in crisis. Emphasis must be placed on strengthening the family, which has always been the bedrock of the VI community. I submit to you that 90% of our young men who come before the criminal justice system come from households under stress, to include fathers who are absent both financially and emotionally from the lives of their sons. When you strengthen families, you strengthen communities and in turn you reduce crime. Here are some specific suggestions:
• We must promote effective community-oriented policing to foster positive relationships and rebuild the broken trust between law enforcement and neighborhoods. This can only be accomplished through the implementation of an effective recruitment and retention initiative. Afterall, we have over 200 fewer police officers in 2020 than we had 15 years ago.
• We must implement creative crime prevention strategies aimed at diverting young people from the criminal justice system and quelling retaliatory crimes which make up the bulk of the murders in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
• We must provide positive and constructive opportunities for engagement for our young people to include economic development opportunities and vocational and technical education opportunities.
• We must promote “second-chance” initiatives for young adult offenders as a means of reducing recidivism and improving outcomes for people returning from local and federal institutions.
• Our government must provide funding to assist law enforcement in obtaining critical resources, to include data driven solutions to solve crime;
• If we expect our police officers to be professional, we must provide them with modern professional facilities, to include a first-class, fully accredited training academy;
Climate change is a growing threat to Virgin Islanders with a myriad of effects ranging from an increase in tropical storms to more severe health issues as a result of warming temperatures. What types of policies will you support to educate the community on the risks of climate change and to increase the territory’s preparation and mitigation efforts?
Potter: I support promoting environmental education as a part of the public school curriculum, allowing our young people to be taught at an early age how Virgin Islanders can manage behavior and ecosystems to live sustainably. We must find viable solutions to our disastrous solid waste crisis, develop a comprehensive land and water use plan to properly manage, maintain and control development for the future. Priority must also be directed towards updating our hazard mitigation plan to identify, assess and reduce the long-term risk to life and property due to natural disasters such as hurricanes, which will be occurring with greater frequency and intensity.
Why do you want to be a Virgin Islands legislator and why should voters choose you over other candidates?
Potter: The magnitude of the problems we’re experiencing as a territory and my belief that I am prepared to work with others to begin to solve them were determining factors that led to my decision to run for public office as a first-time candidate. Our leaders address problem-solving in a reactionary, piecemeal manner. That is why the problems that we face in 2020 are more or less the same problems that we faced in the early 1980’s when I was in high school, albeit much more acute and dire.
We need people with the experience, commitment and love for the people of the Virgin Islands, leaders who can work with cohesively as a team to begin to fix the many vexing problems that threaten our quality of life. I bring extensive experience as an HR professional, Director of Personnel, Executive Director of the V.I. Board of Education, Project Counselor for the Upward Bound Program, part-time Counselor at the Family Resource Center, part-time Professor at UVI, and Treasurer and past President of the St. Thomas Federal Credit Union. I am a trained mediator and hold Senior Certified Professional designations with both the Society for Human Resource Management and the International Public Management Association. I am prepared. The VI has shaped the man that I have become and now it is my turn to give back.