Members of the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections expressed doubt Thursday about the interview process for applicants to the vacant V.I. elections supervisor and deputy supervisor positions, citing the selection committee’s lack of authority to conduct a search.
“We have too many secret meetings. There has to be some semblance of agreement,” said St. Thomas board member Wilma Monsanto, who also expressed a concern that nepotism may have tainted the selection process. “We need to look at qualifications.”
The Joint Board’s personnel committee, which is chaired by St. Croix board member Raymond Williams, said last week that interviews for all three positions would take place and the committee would give final recommendations to the Joint Board immediately afterwards.
But St. Thomas board member Arturo Watlington Jr. said only the full Joint Board has pre-selection authority and can’t delegate the process of screening out applicants without full board approval.
Watlington said the subcommittee interview process was never meant to weed out applicants but only to choose what selection process was ultimately to be used.
St. Thomas Board Chairwoman Alecia Wells said she sat in on interviews Wednesday but was not allowed to ask questions.
Watlington sympathized with the urgency behind the decision but still expressed skepticism that the process followed proper publication guidelines. He claimed that rejected applicants may be able to question the validity of the process.
“We selected a committee to develop the process of selection for the supervisor and deputy supervisor positions,” Watlington said. “The committee was supposed to meet, come up with a process everyone agreed on and then bring it back to the Joint Board for a vote.”
“They never took the second step,” he said, “so it’s void from its inception. There’s no authority to interview and then discard applications.”
Board member Lawrence “Larry” Boschulte said the Joint Board has the authority to create an executive committee to head a process of sifting through applications and choosing the most qualified ones.
“But they didn’t even do that,” Boschulte said.
St. Thomas board member Lydia Hendricks sat on the personnel committee and defended its interview process. Hendricks said the committee planned to pick the top five for each position but only ended up with four for the supervisor position, including Boschulte.
The committee ruled Boschulte was ineligible, which narrowed the search down to three applicants.
Five applicants were interviewed for the deputy supervisor position, Hendricks said.The committee made special accommodations for candidates who did not live on either island.
Watlington read a letter into the meeting’s minutes from Attorney General Vincent Frazer, who wrote to Wells regarding the eligibility of board members for candidacy to the supervisor of elections position, stating that Act 7394 means “no Board of Elections members that was a member a year ago is eligible to become an employee of the Board, which includes both Supervisor and Deputy Supervisor positions.”
Watlington argued this shouldn’t necessary disqualify Boschulte from applying. And even if it did, Watlington said, the personnel committee does not have authority to enforce it without the Joint Board’s approval.
“I know what (Frazer) meant to say but that’s not what the letter says,” Watlington said.
Hendricks said the interviews took place Wednesday and Thursday. Final recommendations from the committee will go to the Joint Board, which will then have the opportunity to view resumes, talk to the candidates and ask questions, Hendricks said. Hendricks refused further comment on the process.
The vacancies were created by several abrupt departures. Former Elections Supervisor John Abramson effectively retired May 31 but he missed substantial time in 2012 and 2013 on medical leave. Both deputy supervisors resigned within a span of four days in mid-March. This left a void in supervisory roles that caused logistical problems for day-to-day management of the system.
Without a new supervisor soon, no one will be authorized to sign checks or take action on behalf of the election system. Watlington said he’s not ready to scrap the committee’s recommendations but that decision should be up to the full Joint Board.
The district board discussed preparation for the 2014 general election including new vote tabulators, training and education on the voting machines. The lack of sufficient funding in advance of upcoming elections was also a topic of discussion.
Watlington said he plans to contact Sen. Clifford Graham to present draft legislation to the Legislature changing the deadlines for filing candidacy, election dates and deadlines to bring them in line with primary dates that were changed to conform to federal law.
The board also voted to pass a 2014 elections budget calling for $1.4 million for the V.I. Election System with the provision that additional funding may be needed.The board discussed the possibility of rejected ballots and excess paper for provisional ballots.
Administrative assistant Sharon Benjamin suggested a 20 percent increase in funding for professional services, ballot training and education. Watlington suggested the board might need even more.
In other board news, YouthBuild USVI formally requested for the board to come speak to students about election and voting issues.
Monsanto also filed a motion to sanction St. Thomas board member Harry Daniel for allegedly breaking quorum during the last meeting. The motion failed.
Boschulte, Daniel, Hendricks, Monsanto, Watlington and Wells were all in attendance. Claudette Georges was absent.