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Elections Board Spars with Abramson, Takes Up Budget Issues

Sept. 13, 2007 — St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections members stepped into the ring for several rounds of heated debate Thursday evening with Supervisor of Elections John Abramson Jr., on issues related to the legal battle surrounding one constitutional convention candidate — among other items of contention.
Abramson said he came to the meeting with the intention of laying some personal issues out on the table. In response to a request from board member Claudette Georges, who raised concerns about the board's relationship with elections' officials, Abramson added that he would also be extending an "olive branch" to board members, in hopes that the two parties could begin to work in harmony.
The meeting was anything but harmonious, however, as Abramson and a few board members engaged in loud arguments and personal spats. Bringing up the recent lawsuit initiated by constitutional convention candidate Harry Daniel, Abramson said he was treated "shabbily" by the board on several occasions and was not given the opportunity to fully engage in meetings held with elections' attorneys.
"I would like to express my disgust with the representation I received in the Harry Daniel case," Abramson said. "I was named as a defendant, along with the board, but I was treated like I was something else. If we're a team, then we should act like a team. I'm part of the same organization as you are, and if I look bad, then you look bad."
Board members argued that they had little time to present their side of the story, since Abramson left the meeting about 30 minutes after his presentation to catch a flight back to St. Croix. Abramson said board meetings should be held earlier in the day to allow all board members and officials to attend.
Before Abramson's departure, board member Arturo Watlington Jr. explained that elections' attorneys had attempted to meet with Abramson.
"They went to talk to you, but said you went on badly with them," Watlington said. "One of them even wrote you a letter."
After Abramson left, board members delved into a wide range of issues that they said had been left unresolved, including whether the Elections System should be classified as a government agency and should have to answer to the legislature for budgetary needs. Many also questioned the status of some of elections' employees, and whether they work for the system or the board.
"We really need to look over our bylaws and revisit our policies," said board member Leona Smith. "We have to set some guidelines."
Internal issues, such as the role of each district board and the Joint Board of Elections, also filtered into the discussion.
"We need to know, for example, whether the joint board has to approve a budget for the St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections," Watlington said.
Watlington and other members also expressed concern over the fiscal year 2008 budget request, which they said is less than the one approved for FY 2007. According to Natalie Thomas, elections' deputy supervisor, this year's budget is almost depleted, due to a decrease in funds line-itemed under the "other services and charges" category. However, she added that there is still unexpended money in other categories, such as personnel services, which should be able to carry the system through the remaining days of the current fiscal year.
In the meantime, elections is working on paying off its current year expenditures, she said, including two contracts — one valued at $55,000 and another at $33, 000 — that have yet to be executed for services rendered during the recent special election for the constitutional convention.
Looking to the year ahead, board members also decided to hold a meeting with the West End Alliance to discuss the possibility of opening a new polling site in the Bordeaux area. If a new site is opened, however, it is likely that another polling station — either the one located at Oswald Harris Court, or the one at Winston Raymo Recreation Center — will be closed, board chairman Lawrence Boschulte said.
Board members also have to look at streamlining the voter registration process, Watlington said. He explained that the system is still running on old demarcation lines, which forces residents to vote at inconvenient locations. Residents living near Gladys Abraham Elementary, for example, still have to make the trek farther downtown to cast their ballots, Watlington said.
Boschulte said the board would present those issues during upcoming public meetings intended to discuss a possible Bordeaux polling station.
Present during Thursday's board meeting was Boschulte, along with board members Leona Smith, Watlington, Alecia Wells and Colette White-Amaro.
Georges and board member Lorna A.C. Thomas were absent.
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