Despite concerns, Public Finance Authority board members approved Thursday a $125,000 contract with former V.I. Attorney General Terri Griffiths, who, according to Gov. Kenneth Mapp, who is also PFA board chairman, will be drafting policies and legislation for the establishment of a hot rod racing facility and industry in the territory.
Concerns at the PFA’s board meeting on St. Thomas came from board member Keith O’Neale, who spoke about the cost of the contract and the need for another attorney within the agency.
Mapp, a former PFA executive director under Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, said that during his time at the helm of the agency, there were multiple counsels employed by the PFA that were in charge of overseeing different projects, which is what Griffiths would be doing.
“We are currently involved in three or four major issues involving the Government of the Virgin Islands and its treasury,” he said, adding that “significant financial investments” being made locally by a “private party” will require Griffiths’ expertise in making changes to V.I. horseracing statutes, how taxes and fees would be paid to the government, and changes to the regulatory arm of the racing commission.
In these areas, Griffiths will be working with attorney Joel Holt, who Mapp said has not only been the government’s “transactional counsel” on ArcLight/Limetree Bay issues, but also represents the “private party” interested in making the racing investments.
O’Neale said Thursday that while he understands the need for “transactional counsels” that would oversee different projects, his main concern lay in the cost for Griffiths, whose expenses on the contract are capped at $12,500 in addition to the $125,000 annual fee.
“I’m trying to understand why an additional person for $125,000 is necessary,” O’Neale said. “I’m trying to understand what the driving force is and what the benefit is of having someone on retainer (Griffiths) and someone on salary (referring to the PFA’s general legal counsel attorney Yvette Ross-Edwards.)”
Mapp said that Ross-Edwards is also on contract and that she is focused on the general needs of the PFA, while Edwards will be focused on building a portion of a new sports tourism industry, doing the related research and drafting bills that would eventually be presented to the Legislature.
The PFA’s former general counsel, attorney Jim Hindels, is also on a $50,000 contract for specific matters, and Griffiths would be same, Mapp said.
He added that Griffiths would also be working on a domestication of assets bill that would deal with individuals “of significant wealth.”
“The Virgin Islands has a specific hybrid as a taxing jurisdiction that, while we are a U.S. jurisdiction, creates a beneficial tax climate for people of wealth,” Mapp said. “We have been successful in having a number of attorneys providing legislation for the drafting of trust domestication policy in the territory but we don’t have any one on the Virgin Islands’ side to do it, and that’s where attorney Griffiths, on a limited contract, comes in.”
“I have concerns,” O’Neale responded, after Mapp asked him again what he thought about Griffiths’ contract. “I think the amount is a lot.”
Despite the concerns, Griffiths’ contract was approved for a year, at an amount not to exceed $125,000. Mapp added later that since Griffiths would report to him, he would be in charge, as PFA board chairman, of reviewing her invoices and expenses.
The board also approved a $150,000 salary for viNGN board member Peter Schultz, who would be working for the company for no less than 750 billable hours for up to a year. The viNGN is a wholly owned subsidiary of the PFA.
During Thursday’s meeting, Mapp said Schultz, who is a former founding member of viNGN and an interim chief executive officer, has made strides in getting local internet service providers to come on board with the network and should be allowed to continue his efforts.
“He’s doing work outside his services on the board,” Mapp said. “Rather than just into the policy issues, he gets into the nuts and bolts issues and the PFA has an interest in that. I would like to compensate him for those services and I’m saying that it would be better to do that without doing it through the viNGN but through the PFA.”
According to what was approved Thursday, Schultz’s travel expenses are capped at $15,000. The contract works out to about $200 per hour, according to board members.