Sept. 18, 2005 — When it comes to civic participation, St. John came out way ahead last week when meetings were held on all three islands to discuss municipal government.
The turnouts on St. Croix and St. Thomas could only be called abysmal when compared to St. John, where more than 60 people packed into the Legislature's Conference Room on Friday night to debate three bills addressing government restructuring and election reform. (See "St. John Is Big on Proposed Government Change").
On Thursday on St. Thomas, committee chairman Shawn-Michael Malone remarked that the V.I. had no shortage of important issues to be addressed crime, education, the economy but that at the bottom of it all was government structure. "This is important," Malone said.
( See "Small Crowd Attends Hearing on Government Form").
Apparently it is mostly St. John residents who think so, however.
On Thursday, members of the territory's emergency response teams showed up at the Legislature to report that everything under the disaster preparedness roof was in order. ( See "Territory Preparing for Possible Disasters").
Adj. Gen. Eddy Charles, of the V.I. National Guard told senators that he had recently shared the Nation Response Plan and the National Incident Management System with members of the V.I.'s Territory Management Council a group that had not met in seven years, Charles said.
The documents outline what each agency and department should do in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. Harold Baker, V.I. Territory Emergency Management Agency head, said the territory has about 500 volunteer emergency managers. However, volunteers didn't show up in large numbers during the emergency in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. In fact, it has been widely reported that police and other emergency workers actually abandoned their posts some even opting for suicide rather than continue to deal with the conditions.
Those conditions would never happen in the V.I., however, as all homes are fitted with cisterns making water available and flooding would only occur in low lying areas, which most areas aren't in the territory. Of course, evacuation is not a big option here, either, so the V.I. does have its own unique set of circumstances to consider.
On a disturbing note, however, Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told the senators there was only $200,000 of Federal Emergency Management Agency money left in the V.I. coffers.
That fact, along with other overt and covert messages, indicate that Virgin Islanders need to be self-sufficient in handling any emergencies that should arise. FEMA has sent some supplies, senators were told, that have been secreted about the islands for safe keeping, but it is unlikely the supplies are sufficient to help a large number of people for a sustained period.
In other matters, senators quickly passed dozens of appropriations bills in short order. More are expected this week. The appropriations are the result of Finance Committee hearings that have been going on since July.
In one aside, Sens. Norman Jn Baptiste, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Usie Richards and Ronald Russell called for mandatory sentencing reform relative to the territory's gun laws. The four said the V.I. mandatory laws are far stiffer than anywhere on the mainland. (See "Senator Calls V.I. Mandatory Gun Sentencing 'Draconian' ").
Meanwhile the territory is way ahead of other jurisdictions as well as its own homicide tally from previous years. The only year that comes close to matching this year's wave of homicides was 2002, when there were 33 homicides within roughly the same time period. There have been 32 to date this year.
In 2001, 17 homicides had been recorded in the months up to and including early September, 2003 saw 22 killings in the same time period and in 2004, 24 homicides had been logged as of Sept. 16.
Most of the killings in all years were committed with guns.
Library aficionados were heartened on Tuesday to hear, once again, that ground would be broken this year for the long-awaited Tutu Library on St. Thomas. However, after the promises were made everyone ran for cover as the Source tried to probe further into the details of the new library. "Library Officials Push for Money to Improve").
On Monday, the Government Operations and Consumer Protection Committee reviewed measures that would: decrease the amount of security deposit the Water and Power Authority could collect from some customers, see to it that members of territorial boards and commissions were not sitting in conflict of interest, and see the Tourism Department be the exchequer for the Carnival Committee. ( See "Senate Approves New WAPA Security Deposits").
The committee also reviewed a measure that would require all Public Services Commission meetings to be televised. It should be pointed out that PSC meetings are open to the public, who should be aware that breakfast and lunch are usually served.
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