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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 21, 2024


After being vindicated in court Tuesday, Water and Power Authority board member Dean Plaskett ripped those who accused him and other WAPA directors of, among other things, accepting illegal perks during negotiations on the partial sale of the utility to Southern Energy.
Plaskett, commissioner of Planning and Natural Resources and one of three members of Gov. Charles Turnbull’s Cabinet who sits on the WAPA board, slammed his main accuser, Gail Watson Chiang, two days after most of her charges were dismissed by Territorial Court Judge Alphonso Andrews Jr.
Andrews ruled that Turnbull didn’t break the law by entering into exclusive negotiations with Southern Energy. The judge also dismissed Chiang’s allegations that the governor’s negotiating team, which included WAPA board members Plaskett, Andrew Rutnik, Arthur Downing and Ira Hobson, violated conflict of interest laws by allowing Southern to pay for their first-class airfare and rooms at the Ritz Carlton, among other things.
Plaskett made two trips in conjunction with the proposal to sell 80 percent of WAPA to Southern for $380 million to $400 million. The first was a visit to Southern’s headquarters in Atlanta where board members and Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II met with company executives and the governor of Georgia. The second was a three-day trip to Washington, D.C. where details of the deal were hammered out in 16-hour sessions, Plaskett said.
Still, Chiang and other critics of the negotiating team, including current WAPA board member Claude "Tappy" Malloy, alleged that tickets and hotel rooms paid for by the company constituted conflict of interest.
"I find it to be insulting for them to say I could be bought by first-class tickets and a stay at the Ritz Carlton," Plaskett, an attorney, said.
He added that allegations that Southern paid his way to the Breeder’s Cup horse race were a "blatant lie."
Plaskett noted that the court ruling said the conflict of interest charge would have only applied had the members of the negotiating team been in the position to gain financially from the deal.
Plaskett dismissed further Chiang’s claims that Turnbull had violated the law by negotiating with Southern. He pointed out that the ruling said Chiang’s former boss and Turnbull’s predecessor, Gov. Roy Schneider, was the one who initiated the deal with the company.
"That was done by Schneider," Plaskett said. "If you listen to the naysayers they’d lead you to believe it was Gov. Turnbull who went into negotiations.
"It’s clear people have ulterior motives. They gave their tacit approval before," he said.
As for the allegation Andrews didn’t throw out – that the Public Finance Authority illegally funded the government’s consultants for the deal – Plaskett said that too was initiated by Schneider. The issue will be heard on Aug. 22.
Plaskett, meanwhile, said he and the negotiating team members may take action against some of their board colleagues and WAPA staff for providing private and confidential information to Chiang’s legal team without the consent of the majority of the utility’s directors.
"We’ll take that up at a later date," he said. "People at WAPA will be held to answer."

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