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Governor Asks for Changes to Three Government Agencies

Jan. 27, 2009 — Gov. John deJongh Jr. sent three proposed bills to the Legislature Monday to split housing out of the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation; transform the Waste Management Authority into the Waste Management Agency; and make the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) a separate agency of the executive branch.
DeJongh sent the draft bills, along with an explanatory letter, to newly installed Senate President Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg in conjunction with his State of the Territory Address on Monday. (See "State of the Territory: Difficult Times Ahead, But Storm Will Pass, Governor Says.")
The goal of creating the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation is to tighten the focus of the department, make it more similar to comparable state agencies and beef up local sports programs and public parks, deJongh said in his letter.
"This new department will focus a rejuvenated energy on our public recreational parks and facilities and the activities which take place therein," he said. "To meet this new focus, the new (department) will, among other actions, work with the Virgin Islands Department of Education to provide programs designed to foster better physical health in our public-school students."
The governor's measure authorizes the new department to enforce laws and regulations within
parks and facilities and gives territorial park rangers police powers. And Sports, Parks and Recreation will apply for, receive and manage federal grants relating to its mission.
DeJongh has proposed this change twice before, but the 27th Legislature did not consider it. (See "Young People Need Recreation Programs, Senators Say.") Under the federal Organic Act of 1954 and its amendments, the governor can recommend bills to the legislature, but he cannot place the bill on the agenda or force a vote to occur.
Turning the Waste Management Authority into the Waste Management Agency will change its place within the government hierarchy much more than change its internal operations or duties. The move lessens WMA autonomy.
"It was intended the authority would work toward self-sufficiency, but that has not happened, nor does it appear that it will occur in the foreseeable future," deJongh said. "The authority's operating budget comes from the central government. However, the policies of the central government need not be followed by the authority due to its status as a semi-autonomous agency."
Funding the WMA without being able to direct it doesn't make fiscal or governing sense, he said: "By placing the present authority directly within the executive branch, it will be better able to coordinate waste policies with the other branches of government. Presently the authority's policies are set by an independent board, which may conflict with the policies of the central government."
Moving VITEMA out from under the V.I. National Guard is designed to establish clear lines of authority for emergency management and make the organizational structure consistent with U.S. norms, deJongh said.
"This move should not be viewed as a criticism of the Office of the Adjutant General, which has capably managed the agency for many years," deJongh said. "Rather, the clear trend across the United States since the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center is to establish an emergency-management agency as a separate office dedicated solely to emergency-management matters."
The National Guard will continue to play a major role in emergency management, but will allow the adjutant general to focus on the challenges specifically facing the Guard.
DeJongh's bill places 911 emergency service and territorial emergency communications under the direction of VITEMA.
"This consolidation is similar to the structure employed in various jurisdictions across the nation, including Washington, D.C.," he said.
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