The St. Croix Board of Elections voted unanimously to select and recommend to the Joint Board of Elections for approval Genevieve Whitaker for the vacant deputy supervisor of elections post on St. Croix at a contentious meeting Wednesday.
Along with the recent hiring of Caroline Fawkes as district supervisor, Whitaker’s appointment will fill the leadership gap the St. Croix district has had since former supervisor John Abramson and former deputy supervisor James Weber III both resigned earlier this year.
Voting for Whitaker were Board Chairman Adelbert Bryan and members Rupert Ross, Lisa Harris-Moorhead, Raymond Williams and Liliana de O’Neil. Members Glenn Webster and Roland Moolenaar were absent.
While the vote was unanimous, it came at the end of a heated meeting during which board members could agree on little else, including even how the Whitaker vote should be conducted.
During the meeting, Bryan called on Fawkes to announce her recommendation for the deputy supervisor post, at which point both Williams and Moorhead vigorously objected, saying the issue was a personnel matter and should be discussed in executive session.
Bryan said the issue had already been discussed at the last joint board meeting in open session, so it was public knowledge, to which Moorhead contended that only the procedure for selecting the candidate was discussed, not the selection itself.
Fawkes ultimately settled the matter, saying her choice was not public information and discussing it openly could only “cause problems.”
“If you select someone I didn’t recommend, then I have to work with that person. It’s an executive session conversation,” she said.
Bryan relented and the matter was discussed behind closed doors.
Members locked horns over several other issues during the meeting, including Bryan’s budget presentation to the Senate Finance Committee in August.
Williams angrily pointed out that the budget submitted by Bryan to the Senate was not the same budget that board members had voted on at a meeting in August.
Williams said the approved budget was only $325,000, far less than the $477,337 sum Bryan submitted to the legislature, and he demanded to know why the change was made without consulting the board.
Bryan defended his actions saying he acted as chairman in the interest of the board. He said the sum approved by the board was, in his opinion, insufficient to cover the costs of bringing the V.I. Elections System’s St. Croix office into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“That is a representation of what we need to function as a district board,” he said, referring to his budget figure.
Bryan goaded Williams, asking him if he thought they were receiving too much money.
Williams responded that the issue wasn’t the amount, but that he had unilaterally changed the budget and presented it as though it had board support.
“The purpose of a board is to develop consensus, and what the board agreed to by motion was this budget of $325,000,” he said.
“And it wasn’t sufficient,” Bryan shot back.
Williams went on to accuse Bryan of “fraud,” at which point the conversation grew more contentious.
Members Moorhead and Ross intervened to calm the disagreement, with Ross saying it ultimately was a matter of following the law.
“If the board had approved a budget and you (Bryan), in your wisdom, wanted to increase it, change it or modify it, and present it to this community as the budget of this board, then it needed to come back to the board and let us vote on it. All of us can’t go out there and represent the board as individuals. We’ve got to meet and reach a consensus,” he said.
The matter was ultimately dropped without action.
Members also disagreed on how the board should respond to a federal audit conducted by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission on the use of funds the territory received under the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
At a meeting on Friday, Bryan had announced it would be the policy of the St. Croix district board to allow members to send their own responses to the EAC individually, rather than issue a single statement.
Moorhead, who was not at the meeting Friday, said she thought that plan was “crazy,” arguing that members did not have independent information of how the funds were spent, and therefore didn’t have any data to use to refute or comment on the validity of the EAC audit.
“None of us, even the people who’ve been here since Methuselah times, have any control over what the supervisor of election did with any money and have not, until this audit, had any clue as to what funds were used or misused or anything else. So there’s no way anyone could intelligently respond to this as an individual,” she said.
Bryan rejected her argument saying members should have a right to weigh in on their own.
“I can tell them what I know. You can tell them what you don’t know or what you know,” he said.
Bryan also objected to a comment made by Fawkes during her supervisor’s report. Fawkes said she had received word from Government House that the governor wanted a response from the board regarding the audit.
Bryan took this to mean that Gov. John deJongh Jr. wanted the members’ responses to the EAC routed through him, and Bryan denounced that as a violation of the board of election’s independence from the executive branch.
“I don’t feel that I or anybody here should send a response to the governor. He’s not the agency to send out things for us. We are the ones that they (the EAC) asked to respond. So he can’t respond for us,” he said.
In other business, the board voted to retroactively approve travel expenses incurred by board members who attended conferences in August.
Voting in favor were Bryan, Moorhead and O’Neill. Member Ross abstained and Williams voted against.