Despite his major accomplishments, several projects pending and final authorization on a major dredging project for St. Croix hanging in the air, the board of the V.I. Port Authority issued walking papers Wednesday to the man who has overseen a dozen or more significant improvements to the physical and fiscal well-being of the semi-autonomous agency, terminating his contract without cause.
Carlton Dowe, a former senator, has headed the agency since early 2013.
Wednesday’s vote came after two board members nominated by Gov. Kenneth Mapp – Yvonne Thraen and Melvin Forbes – were approved Tuesday at the special session with unprecedented alacrity.
Thraen, who was re-nominated after her term expired in June, had sung Dowe’s praises at the Rules Committee hearing on Monday, saying, "Over the past three years, I have seen a significant increase in the planning, implementation and completion of board-approved projects under the aegis of Executive Director Carlton Dowe, aided by his staff. "
But before the special session had finished on Wednesday, Thraen reportedly cast her vote in executive session at VIPA to oust the man she had lauded two days earlier.
Forbes, who was sent away from the Rules Committee once in March, only to pass through Rules Monday and be approved on Tuesday, reportedly did not show up for the VIPA board meeting.
The move to get rid of Dowe was not entirely unexpected. Dowe had been in the administration’s crosshairs for a while, in part because rumors have abounded that the former VIPA director has considered making a run for Government House in 2018. Dowe was also in the mix of other port issues that caused a final rift between Mapp and his former chief of staff, Randolph Knight, a few months ago.
A telephone poll conducted by Mapp’s political consultant late last week, along with several questions about how residents felt about the governor, the Legislature and the general state of the territory, specifically asked how respondents felt about Dowe. He was notably the only nonelected official singled out in the 10-minute query.
In his nearly four-year tenure, Dowe:
– improved VIPA’s bond rating;
– settled union contracts that had been pending for 10 years;
– raised millions of dollars in grant money;
– secured a 10-year agreement with a major cruise line, which had never been done before;
– successfully raised fees;
– and for the first time in the history of the Port Authority secured a U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER discretionary grant to be used to complete port projects, including the Schooner Bay Channel dredging project on St. Croix, which awaits only the final blessing of the Army Corps of Engineers to get started.
Also voting to fire Dowe were Gustav James, Attorney General Claude Walker, Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty, all of whom serve on the board because of their official positions, and Mapp’s cousin, Laurel Hewitt-Sewer. Voting against terminating Dowe’s contract were Jose Penn and Roberto Cintron, according to an informed source.
The governor’s brother, David Mapp, due to his position as assistant executive VIPA director, has been appointed to serve as executive director, according to a two-sentence statement from the Port Authority. David Mapp served at least once before as interim director before Dowe was hired.