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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 20, 2024


Some 30 years ago, on the day before Thanksgiving, 200,000 cars drove into The New York borough of Manhattan. Public officials were stunned and concerned but didn't do much. In 2002, on any given day, more than 800,000 vehicles clog, pollute and reduce the quality of life in Manhattan.
If those 800,000 cars and trucks had appeared on the day after Thanksgiving 30 years ago, they would have constituted a major crisis, and strong action would have been taken. But the situation deteriorated day by day, giving people time to adjust to their diminished circumstances, the longer commutes, the constant horn blowing and the impossibility of parking.
Imagine that on a certain date in the mid-1970s, the streets and communities of the Virgin Islands suddenly became crime ridden and violent, that the schools basically stopped educating children, that rumors of government corruption were everywhere, that public services were delivered at a level that would embarrass any other jurisdiction under the American flag, and that the previously pristine islands were strewn with litter.
There would have been outrage, and there would have been concerted action.
Try further to imagine in those circumstances a governor flying around to bioterrorism conferences and talking about how "complex" everything is, an Education commissioner defending the disastrous failure of the schools and portraying acceptance of the disaster as a great victory, and a police chief talking about improvements in the face of damning evidence.
How long would they and others like them have survived in public office? Their tenures would have been measured in days, if not hours.
Well, all of those things and more have happened, and what have the consequences been for the responsible officials? Nothing. Nobody has been fired. There is no public outrage. Like New Yorkers with terrible traffic, Virgin Islanders have gotten used to it and appear to believe that there is nothing that can be done.
The difference is that, while traffic in New York is a problem, the conditions feeding decline in the Virgin Islands are part of a tragic downward spiral with no end in sight.
The problems of the Virgin Islands are largely a result of low standards, a lack of basic systems, a lack of accountability and a desperate lack of leadership. It is unfortunate that the territory does not have a true elite that could step forward and say "enough is enough." Instead, Virgin Islands life is dominated by a parasitic political class that is as indifferent to the future of the territory as the leeches who run corrupt dictatorships throughout the world. They have succeeded in producing a debilitating pessimism that keeps people from mobilizing and that also is contributing to the growing belief that things cannot get better and maybe it is time to think of moving on. The federal government has played a negative enabling role in bringing about this situation, particularly with respect to corruption, failure to enforce accountability, and the squandering of public dollars.
On a personal note, the audit of the Law Enforcement Planning Commission and its squandering of close to a million dollars was particularly disheartening. Some 20 years ago, with support from two extraordinary Virgin Islands leaders, Wilburn Smith and Calvin Wheatley, I received a small grant of a few thousand dollars from LEPC to help start the St. Thomas-St. John Youth Multiservice Center. Imagine once more what a million well-spent dollars directed to effective youth services could do to reduce delinquency and to enhance the life chances of young people. It does not get much sadder than this.

Editor's note: Management consultant Frank Schneiger has worked with V.I. agencies since 1975, most recently as consultant to United Way of St. Thomas/St. John. He is one of the founders of the St. Thomas/St. John Youth Multiservice Center.
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