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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, June 21, 2024


June 10, 2003 – Despite differing interpretations as to who called the meeting and who was or was not invited, 12 senators and a small army of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's financial aides and cabinet members met for 11 hours Monday behind closed doors at Palms Court Harborview Hotel to try to hash out solutions to the territory's fiscal crisis.
None of the lawmakers were sticking their necks out on Tuesday as to the nuts and bolts of what transpired, but some said progress was made.
In a release late Tuesday afternoon, Senate President David Jones seemed to indicate a spirit of cooperation between the legislative and executive branches: "The issues demand that the petty politics of personality be put aside as we embrace the opportunity for the first time in a long time to cross the line of demarcation, albeit it artificial, and lead as one unit. The people of the Virgin Islands expect and deserve no less."
All senators and the governor and his financial team are now scheduled to meet again at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Government House on St. Croix, according to James O 'Bryan, St. Thomas-Water Island administrator and a long-standing member of Turnbull's cabinet as the governor's assistant for public affairs.
Monday's meeting pre-empted the full Senate session that had been scheduled to take up five of the governor's bills dealing with the fiscal crisis. That session has now been rescheduled for June 17.
Turnbull and the Senate reached an impasse last week when both camps set demands the other found unacceptable. (See "Turnbull defends his fiscal plan, raps Senate".)
Monday's marathon meeting "was fruitful," O 'Bryan said Tuesday on the Topp Talk show on WVWI Radio. "It was a good exchange of ideas. Positions were made very clear on both sides. Progress was made toward developing a consensus for compromise that everybody can live with."
O 'Bryan said by telephone later that all 15 senators were "aware of the meeting" from early Monday morning, when it was announced.
Minority Senators Celestino A. White Sr., Raymond "Usie" Richards and Norman Jn Baptiste stated on Monday morning that they had not been invited to the meeting. O'Bryan commented Tuesday: "Based on their own statements, they were clearly aware of the meeting."
According to O'Bryan, the meeting "was called by Senate President David Jones with the concurrence of the governor."
However, the release from the Senate Tuesday afternoon stated: "Jones wants to make it crystal clear that all senators were notified in a timely manner about the meeting called by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull yesterday to discuss the issues that are on the agenda to be acted upon by members of the 25th Legislature."
Richards, the minority leader, has been one of the most vocal lawmakers since the Legislature took office in January in pushing for a meeting of the Senate with the governor and his finance officials to learn the fiscal state of the territory. Since April, he has been trying to present the minority's economic plans for increasing revenues and reducing spending to the executive branch.
Majority leader Douglas Canton said on Tuesday that all senators were invited to the Monday meeting by telephone. "I told Sen. Richards he should have been there," Canton said. "This shouldn't have happened. Steps are being taken to make sure the proper protocol is used in the future to preclude another occurrence."
Canton said he was "more than cautiously optimistic" about arriving at acceptable solutions to the fiscal crisis as a result of Monday's meeting. "I am looking forward to the meeting tomorrow [Wednesday], because of Monday's success," he said.
While declining to reveal details "at this time," Sen. Lorraine Berry said on Tuesday of the Monday meeting: "It is always good to have people at the table."
Berry had been sharply critical of Turnbull in a statement issued Friday and on her Monday morning radio show on WVWI. (See "Fiscal crisis is governor's fault, Berry charges".
The Finance Committee chair, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, said Monday's meeting "accomplished a lot. We were able to move forward in spite of differences. We had some kind of accord and cooperation on both sides."
Donastorg's committee voted down the 18.75 percent gross receipts tax increase Turnbull had proposed. "I was very uncomfortable with that and some of the other initiatives," Donastorg said Tuesday. He expressed a thought on the minds of many: "I think we have to rise above the conflict." He said it was obvious that the Legislature and the governor were "on a collision course that is not in the best interest of the people."
O 'Bryan termed Monday's meeting "fruitful, a good exchange of ideas." He said that "positions were made very clear on both sides. Progress was made toward developing a consensus for a compromise that everybody can live with."
Jones did not return telephone calls on Tuesday. However, the release from the Senate attributed to him a further statement that "Discussions were by no means an attempt to exclude the public. Rather, they were an opportunity to probe the mental processes of the executive branch. No decisions will be made until Tuesday, June 17, in plain view of the public."
There was no word from the Legislature on Tuesday concerning two Senate committee meetings set for Wednesday. The Senate calendar has the Planning and Environmental Protection Committee convening at 10 a.m. on St. John and the Education and Youth Committee meeting at 6 p.m. on St. Thomas.
Legislature representatives attending Monday's meeting were Sens. Berry, Canton, Roosevelt David, Donastorg, Carlton Dowe, Emmett Hansen II, Louis Hill, Jones, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Shawn-Michael Malone, Luther Renee and Ronald Russell; along with legal counsel Yvonne Tharpes and post auditor Anneta Heyliger.
The governor's team included Elmo Adams, assistant legal counsel; Karen Andrews, chief negotiator; Joanne Barry, Personnel director; Kent Bernier, economic affairs assistant; George Goodwin, special assistant; Kenneth Mapp, Public Finance Authority finance and administrative director; Ira Mills, Office of Management and Budget director; Lauritz Mills, Bureau of Economic Research director; O 'Bryan, Louis Willis, Internal Revenue Bureau director; Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull; Alric Simmonds, the governor's deputy chief of staff; Tamara Smalls, IRB attorney; Nathan Simmonds, Office of Fiscal Recovery and Implementation director; and Attorney General Iver Stridiron.
The same administration officials are expected to attend Wednesday's meeting.

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