March 27, 2003 – Discord was the dominant element Wednesday afternoon as firefighters and, to a lesser degree, police officers expressed discontent with management to the Senate Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice Committee.
Daryl George, St. Thomas-St. John International Association of Firefighters local president, produced a petition with 39 signatures asking for the ouster of Ian Williams Sr., Fire Service director. The petition accuses Williams of having "demonstrated incompetence and lack of managerial and leadership ability to adequately perform the duties of director."
Alexandro Rivera, St. Croix IAFF vice president, echoed George's complaints, also calling for the resignation of St. Croix Fire Chief Roberto Santos Sr., although the petition does not mention Santos.
George and Rivera spoke at length decrying conditions within the Fire Service and accusing Williams of ignoring complaints and failing to provide firefighters with training and equipment they need.
Lt. Edmund Thompson, St. Thomas-St. John Law Enforcement Supervisors Union president, and Aaron Krigger, St. Thomas-St. John Police Benevolent Association president, told the senators that an inadequate Police Department budget plays a "negative role" in protecting the community. They cited a "desperate" need for more personnel, equipment and training, especially in the light of their new mandate of providing homeland security.
Krigger was critical of Police Commissioner-designate Elton Lewis, claiming Lewis had given short shrift to a list of complaints Krigger had taken to his office.
At a Senate Labor and Veterans Affairs Committee hearing last April, where similar internal discord was being expressed, then-Sen. Vargrave Richards said the Legislature was not the forum for internal disputes and suggested the Fire Service form a labor-management relations committee to address the concerns.
On Wednesday, Williams responded to the accusations. "Nobody took an oath" before testifying, he noted. "It all boils down to one thing — if the government will give us the funding we need," he said.
He also commented: "For the record, I am not a dictator, but I can be. I will send you all the cases that have come up during my tenure. I have lost no case against the union."
Lewis, who had testified at the committee's morning session, was en route from St. Thomas to St. Croix. But he turned around and returned to the Senate chambers after hearing Krigger's statements.
On the Senate floor, he told Krigger: "I appreciate your 10 points, but I didn't see anything suggested as a course of action to resolve these problems. I haven't met with Lt. Thompson yet. I will meet with the whole PBA; I'm familiar with the issues."
Lewis, who was designated by the governor on March 18 to succeed Franz Christian, who was relieved of duty, had said Wednesday morning that he would not "point fingers" at his predecessors or second guess them. However, he said on Wednesday evening: "You can't take a department that has been in disarray for the past five to seven years and fix it in two weeks."
His first priority, he added, is "bringing the streets under control."
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