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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 20, 2024


We in the Virgin Islands put great stock in preserving our traditions, but some traditions are not worth hanging on to.
High on that list: the unfortunate tradition of Virgin Islands taxpayers footing the bill for the personal living expenses of their governors and first families.
This practice came to light in the '80s during the administration of Gov. Juan F. Luis, when Sen. Ruby M. Rouss revealed that the governor and his wife were spending thousands of taxpayer dollars every year for personal household expenses – including Pampers.
It surfaced again most recently in an audit by the V.I. inspector general of expenditures during the administration of Gov. Roy L. Schneider.
Among other examples of questionable spending, the audit disclosed that former first lady Barbara Schneider was reimbursed $114,000 for food, household and cleaning supplies bought between February 1995, a month after her husband took office, and December 1998, when he left.
"We believe that some of these food and household reimbursements were personal in nature and should not have been paid for by the Virgin Islands government," the audit report stated.
It did acknowledge that similar expenses by governors and their wives had been reimbursed in the past, but apparently not to the levels seen with the Schneiders.
"We were informed by officials at Finance that although this practice had been done to some extent in the past, it was more frequent from 1995 through 1998," the audit report stated. "We attempted to obtain evidence to verify the extent of similar activities prior to 1995; however, the documents provided showed very few purchases of this nature."
A spokesman for Gov. Schneider told the Daily News that the former governor "believes his conduct and that of his wife was consistent with that of other former governors and first ladies."
Unfortunately, auditors and prosecutors apparently no longer have the option of seeking reimbursement from Schneider for any personal expenses while he was in office. This is because when Schneider repaid the taxpayers for Frenchman's Reef Hotel accommodations for his political adviser, Walter Brunner, prosecutors reportedly agreed, as part of the settlement of the criminal case against Schneider, not to go after repayment of any other improperly or illegally reimbursed items while he was governor.
So, if that is true, the $114,000 for household expenses is history, and V.I. taxpayers will have to grin and bear it. But they shouldn't bear it for any future governors, including Gov. Charles W. Turnbull.
The Legislature must clarify the law to make it crystal clear that all public officials are legally responsible for paying their personal household expenses (as opposed to expenses incurred for official public functions).
We taxpayers already pay for our governor's residences, chauffeured limos, trips abroad and all official expenses. We should not pay for personal household expenses too.

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