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V.I. Carnival Committee in Senate Hot Seat

The V.I. Carnival Committee is “like a rogue entity,” Sen. Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly said at Wednesday’s Finance Committee budget hearing as V.I. Carnival Committee members described what senators characterized as a lack of accountability.

“I expect the V.I. Carnival Committee to be an example and not a bad example,” Sen. Myron Jackson said.

The Carnival Committee, which oversees St. Thomas Carnival, was joined by representatives from the Crucian Christmas Festival Organization and the St. John Festival and Cultural Organization.

At issue for Rivera-O’Reilly was the Carnival Committee’s failure to file annual reports for the years 2006 to 2012 with the Division of Corporations and Trademarks at the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. Rivera-O’Reilly also said the Carnival Committee didn’t file balance and income statements from 2005 to 2011.

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She asked for a report of how the committee spent its nongovernmental funds before the end of the day, and said she’s asked before for articles of incorporation and bylaws but didn’t get them.

Carnival Committee Director Caswil Callender said that with only two paid employees, it was difficult to get the information together in a timely way.

Rivera-O’Reilly was also curious as to why Carnival Committee failed to issue Internal Revenue Bureau 1099 forms to musicians who played at events so they would be responsible for their income taxes.

“You are asking for taxpayer’s money and, if they want it, they have to pay taxes,” Finance Committee Chairman Clifford Graham said.

Callender said a lot of musicians get paid in cash because that’s what they request.

Rivera-O’Reilly was aggressive in her questioning but things ground to a halt when Callender tried to outtalk Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson. As Nelson asked repeatedly that Callender’s microphone be turned off, Graham called for a recess.

After the proceedings resumed and Callender said he believed Carnival belonged to the committee, not the government, Nelson told him that he needed to get a change of attitude because Carnival belonged to the people.

“I’ve listened to your arrogance all morning,” Nelson said.

Callender and Carnival Committee President Kenneth Blake were before the senators to defend the 2014 budget of $650,000. That figure includes $300,000 from the Tourism Department.

Callender was irked that the Police Department called a halt to this year’s J’ouvert after someone was shot. He said this move left vendors with unsold goods and bands unable to finish playing.

“Revelers were disappointed,” Callender said.

Callender also said his $60,000 a year salary was half of what it should be.

“We put on a massive Carnival. There’s a whole lot to do,” he said.

The Crucian Christmas Festival Organization and the St. John Festival and Cultural Organization representatives had fairly smooth sailing with the committee.

According to the Legislature’s Post Audit report, the suggested 2014 budget for the Crucian Christmas Festival Organization stands at $575,000, including $275,000 from the Tourism Department.

Committee members said the organization was considering changing its name to include carnival because it had wider global recognition, but Jackson told them to keep festival because such celebrations began with festivals on plantations.

“It goes back to slave times. At Christmas, that’s when plantation owners allowed them to go about,” committee member Melody Rames said.

Leona Smith, who heads the St. John Festival and Cultural Organization, asked for $650,000, an increase of $300,000 over the previous year. She said the organization wants the additional money for things like a tent to cover the bandstand in case it rains, five storage trailers and artificial grass to cover Winston Wells ballfield where many events are held.

“Being it’s our 60th anniversary, and we’re talking about equity,” she said, inferring that the organizations on the other two islands got additional money when they celebrated their 60th anniversaries.

In addition to Graham, Nelson, O’Reilly and Jackson, Sens. Donald Cole and Clarence Payne attended the meeting. Sen. Judi Buckley was absent. Noncommittee member Sen. Diane Capehart put in an appearance to ask questions.

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