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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, May 29, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesPolitical Leadership Panel Calls for Ethical, Moral Standards

Political Leadership Panel Calls for Ethical, Moral Standards

Former Sen. Ronald RussellConflicts of interest, ethics, the empowerment of women in government, qualities to look for in political candidates and community involvement were some of the topics discussed Saturday afternoon at the Palms Court Harbor View Hotel during the Virgin Islanders for Democratic Action Club’s public symposium on the responsibilities of political leadership.

Former Sen. Lorraine L. Berry, VIDAC president, put together a panel of presenters well versed in Virgin Islands politics and its legalities. Speaking of her reasons for organizing the symposium, Berry said, “It is the first step toward bringing the community together to discuss the type of leadership we want in the Virgin Islands.”

Berry would also like to see more women in leadership roles, giving three reasons the territory’s elected officials are predominantly male – chauvinism, a lack of support from other women and the challenges many Virgin Islands women face as heads of household. “We seek to wake up the sleeping giant, the women in the territory who are capable of serving in all aspects of leadership and the men who are going to support them,” she said.

The symposium’s first panel speaker, Supervisor of Elections John Abramson, gave the listening audience of approximately 20 people pertinent information regarding procedures and key dates for persons running for public office. His main bone of contention is potential candidates’ failure to read information they are given. “If you’re going to run for office,” Abramson demanded, “you goddamned well better prepare.”

Elliott McIver Davis, solicitor general for the Virgin Islands Department of Justice, explained the V.I. Code’s restrictions regarding conflicts of interest. Davis also informed attendees that there is no requirement for background checks of officials running for office.

Davis emphasized the need for full disclosure from officials regarding any potential conflict of interest. Full disclosure prior to public exposure and thorough background checks were also touched on by attorney Ruth Miller, who spoke about the qualities voters should look for in potential candidates. Other qualities mentioned were honesty, manners and civility, responsiveness, competence, allowing others the right of free speech, a lack of nepotism or favoritism, and a history of community service without financial compensation.

“Community morals will determine our ethics,” said Miller. A common theme among panel members was the need for the community to demand that officials follow a code of ethics and morals.

Checks and balances within the three branches of government – judicial, executive, and legislative — were explained to attendees by former Sen. Ronald Russell, a St. Croix attorney, along with the rules of the legislature. The legislature rules, according to Russell, are not always followed and legislators do not always do their homework before passing and changing laws.

Speaking of the empowerment of women in leadership roles was Carole Henneman, host of the "Sankofa Vibrations" radio program. Henneman called for women to get involved but only those women who truly follow politics, avidly study political trends, have a strong backbone and seriously want to do something. She explained that she would not vote for a woman just because she is a woman. Standing just under 5 feet tall, Henneman still has a large presence and told listeners, “I can have a big voice without a seat in the Senate.”

Panelists also included Luis “Tito” Morales, state chair of the Democratic Party of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and April Newland, vice chair of the Republican Party of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Mario Francis, state chair of the ICM Party, was scheduled to speak but was involved in a car accident earlier in the day, along with his wife and mother-in-law,

Both party representatives gave a brief history of their party and stressed the need for political parties in the territory to become stronger. One of the problems discussed was the fact that although candidates may run under a specific party, they are not always active in that party. Morales expressed a desire for the Democratic Party to assist in financing senate campaigns, which they have not been doing.

Newland got laughs from the crowd when she informed them that if there was any inclination among potential democratic candidates to switch parties, the Republican Party had plenty of money available for campaign funding.

Malik Sekou wrapped up the symposium with a brief political overview of the topics discussed and the issues presented, giving kudos to the presenters. With regard to the empowerment of women, Sekou said, “This is not a gift that the men can give but the right of women to take.”

Sekou agreed that improvement in background checks is crucial, along with a mechanism to weed out candidates who are not qualified.

Citing a need to increase standards in the Virgin Islands, Sekou said, “In the States, if you are a male candidate and have an extramarital affair, it’s a big issue. Outside children, it’s a big issue. Here, they could have 100 outside children, not pay child support and we don’t care.”

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