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Work Proceeds on Drafting an Island Council Charter

Aug. 16, 2004 – The St. John Community Foundation's proposal for an island council moved forward Monday night when a committee met at the Fish Trap Restaurant to hash out a charter for the local government body.
The foundation's Island Council Committee has been meeting for several months with the goal of giving Gov. Charles W. Turnbull the proposal he requested at a December 2003 town meeting on St. John. He said then that he believes the various islands should have more autonomy, and he asked the Community Foundation to tell him how to do it.
As the long-term members of the committee plus a few others attending for the first time went through each issue, one newcomer wondered who would vote for an island council.
"This is quite scary. You are giving a lot of power," Monique Rogers said.
She predicted that 60,000 to 70,000 people would arrive on St. John to vote, presumably disenfranchising the local population of about 4,000.
"People are not going to do that," Craig Barshinger said.
Bonnie Blair said that when the Coral Bay Community Council hosted a recent voter registration drive in Coral Bay, 16 people registered. Then she added that the district Board of Elections thought that was a phenomenal accomplishment.
Rogers interjected numerous comments and questions, asking how the Island Council Committee plans to ensure cultural diversity.
"This is the greatest opportunity for native Virgin Islanders," Steve Black said.
Rogers said she did a survey six years ago and found that native St. Johnians tend not to vote in elections.
Noting that while she is registered to vote on St. Thomas, she owns property on St. John, Rogers asked why she would not be able to vote in St. John Island Council elections.
"You have to choose a primary residence," Barshinger told her.
Barshinger said voting for island council members on St. John would be in addition to voting for senators in the St. Thomas-St. John district and for the at-large senator, assuming the present form of territorial government continued.
Rogers also complained that word about the work on setting up an island council hasn't gotten out to the community. The foundation's executive director, Carole DeSenne, explained that the committee is hammering out the details of a first draft proposal. She said the committee plans to hold town meetings, distribute brochures and do other kinds outreach to involve the whole community in the decision-making process
B.J. Harris said she already is passing out data sheets about the island council proposal to everyone she sees.
The Island Council Committee has been looking at a mayor-council form of government, with six council members. However, some members said on Monday that they want to explore other options when they take the council proposal to the larger community.
There is no timeline for the public meetings.

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