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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, May 30, 2024


While Noah processed them two by two, Sen. Anne Golden's Rules Committee appears to be processing them four by four. Monday the committee and various other senators spent an average of two hours listening to and talking to each of the governor's nominees for commissioner of Health, Housing, Justice and Tourism.
The one dissenting voice throughout the procedure was that of ICM Sen. Adelbert M. "Bert" Bryan.
When Ira Hobson, acting commissioner of Housing, Parks & Recreation spoke about the need to rehabilitate housing units, Bryan spoke about the need to trim personnel to free up monies for operations and cleaning up the project grounds. One problem was deemed to be the inability of project managers to manage their facilities.
While the Democratic senators voted for Hobson Bryan refused to "vote for someone who violates the legal procedure."
As a native Virgin Islander, acting Attorney General Iver Stridiron appeared to be on a gentler path. Stridiron emphasized his early experiences with organizations such as the Law Enforcement Planning Commission in 1970. He stressed his connections with the V.I. and relationships with local and federal legal and law enforcement personnel.
Stridiron declared he would "ask for the maximum sentence for child rape" and would "hire the staff necessary to prosecute."
Stridiron said that "civil cases are being settled for nuisance value due to lack of manpower to investigate and defend." While these amounts are relatively small per case, they quickly add up due to sheer volume.
He observed that on one Friday he reviewed "42 separate tort claims filed against the government in one day."
About two-thirds of the way through Stridiron's comments, Bryan moved for a vote "to save time." Golden said everyone would have an opportunity to speak and made it clear time was not an issue.
Stridiron went on to speak of the reorganization of the jails which has freed up some 65 spaces to hold federal detainees. He said he expects to obtain some $46 per space initially and, if the program is successful, intends to increase the rate to mirror costs. He also spoke of the some 70 inmates serving hard time on the continent. According to Stridiron the St. Croix facility under reconstruction will be able to house 65 of these inmates which currently costs the territory some $70 each per day.
Items which received a great deal of interest under questioning included the recent AT&T settlement. According to Stridiron "$9.5 million is reasonable as a penalty and is the second highest they have ever paid. Some $1.8 million should go to the federal government, but we have asked to keep it."
Richards inquired of Stridiron's plans "to address rampant fraud." Stridiron said the only case he has "reviewed to date was the Dec. 28 raid." He is "developing a protocol to stop future running of checks." If anyone received more than their correct payment they would have to return the overpayment. If the monies were not forthcoming he would initiate civil suit for recovery. While he did not believe the participants had acted criminally, he would initiate "criminal suit if it is found to be intentional fraud."
Stridiron also went on record as favoring a grand jury, paternity and child support payment reforms, and prisoner labor including trustee work release and roadside cleaning.
Bryan was adamantly opposed to the AT&T settlement. According to him the "whole process is suspect." He claims AT&T knowingly laid the cable in the wrong place, knew there was a spill, the monitor knew there was a spill, and no one reported it. He went on to castigate the monitor and her relationship with DPNR in several other projects. Bryan's accusations brought on a heated exchange from Stridiron, causing Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg to note he was "acting like an elected attorney general."
When acting Commissioner of Tourism Clement "Cain" Magras came to the floor it was with some trepidation due to rumors floating through the community for the past several days, Bryan opened the session by going straight to the question of the day — asking Golden if there were "any legal actions pending naming Mr. Magras." Golden replied there were none to her knowledge.
Magras pointed out that "tourism is the cornerstone of our economy." He emphasized the competition from foreign governments and our need to take advantage of our uniqueness.
The upcoming Sinbad concert was a much-discussed topic. Explaining the $500,000 government subsidy to Sen. Lorraine Berry, Magras stated , "Sinbad gets national sponsors and the Virgin Islands is one of those."
Magras said that $400,000 has been paid for pre-promotion. "In our contract with Sinbad we keep $50,000 until after the concert is over and all the bills are paid."
He said tourism "weighed the advantages of having over 8,000 tourists for a week, every hotel full and every restaurant doing a banner business, and downtown stores selling." Furthermore, given this scenario, "the hotel room tax …would amount to over $260,000. Tom Joyner and Doug Banks will broadcast live, and Black Entertainment Television (BET) will film a 'behind the scenes' – all in addition to Pay -Per-View television. That is over $6 million of advertising."
Sen. Judy Gomez began the questioning asking, "What are your major priorities?" Magras said, "Number one is the expansion of the St. Croix runway. Given a new terminal and a longer runway, we can capitalize on the cheapest fuel in the Caribbean. At this time, long haul jets cannot take off with both a full load of fuel and a full load of passengers. When they can, we can promote international tourism."
He stressed importance of the South American market, where their winter is our summer, and the possibility of a major Caribbean hub for an airline such as TWA or United.
When Gomez asked about satellite offices, Magras stated he had "closed the Puerto Rico office and contracted for a representative working out of their home, thereby saving in rent and support staff."
He also plans to "move the Rockefeller Center office from the locked 21st floor costing $106,000 to an accessible location in New Jersey costing $30,000."
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd allowed "we want people to come, but we Americanize. We are not enhancing our product. (He) supports heritage tourism as it maximizes our strength." He then wanted to know "how do we clean up?" Magras explained one of his pet projects was to move "Litter and Beautification under Tourism and concentrate on the beautification." Furthermore, he emphasized "when we clean, we must plant for beauty and future maintenance." Finally he spoke of the new heritage trail for St. Croix.
Both Liburd and Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole asked Magras about charges being filed against him. Again Magras stated he was not aware of any charges.
Sen. Vargrave Richards asked about a "plan to generate business on St. Croix." Magras spoke about the runway extension, and related international business and major airline hub potential. He also said the relocation of the dump might well increase federal airport expansion monies by some $6 million.
Richards then questioned Magras concerning his management style. Magras indicated he "works long and hard setting an example, and finds employees usually come up to that level also." Richards reminded him he "needs to make coworkers feel more a part of things."
The standard vote for the evening was four yeas, one nay and two absent.

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