“What a difference a year makes, right?” observed Idle the Iguana, the Source’s mascot.
Every Jan. 1 the Source seeks out the loquacious lizard to get his take on the new year for the territory – his hopes, wishes and expectations.
This year, we found him in his usual haunt, the belt of sea grape bordering the sand. And for some reason, he was sitting cross-legged. If you’ve never seen an iguana sit cross-legged, well, all we can say is we wish we’d brought our camera. It’s something to see.
“I’ve taken up yoga,” he said in answer to our inquiry. “It’s very relaxing. You know, you like to start a new year with a resolution to improve yourself, and this year I chose yoga.”
He lay down, arching his back and poking his belly toward the sun.
“I usually start with ‘downward-facing lizard,” he said of his pose, “but I’m not feeling down today. I thought the bridge might be a better metaphor as we begin the new year.”
“Very hopeful,” we said.
“Oh yeah. Remember a year ago? New Years? We were less than four months removed from the double whammy of Irma and Maria. We were still reeling, wondering if things would ever be normal again. Now look at us. We’ve got a ways to go, but we’re on the road to recovery. Maybe things won’t be the same, but we’re moving forward and that ain’t nothing. And we’ve got a chance to do things better than they were,” he said. “Different, but better. So this is a good time to look ahead to a new year, a new government and the bridge to that future.”
“Sounds good,” we said. “Have at it.”
He shifted his yoga pose from bridge to something that had his right front and left rear foot on the ground, the other two raised, and his tail streaming straight out behind him.
“Lunging Lizard,” he said. “Don’t even try this unless you’ve got a tail almost as long as the rest of your body.”
We promised we wouldn’t, and kept our pen poised to gather his words of wisdom.
“Let’s start with the new governor and lieutenant governor. Albert Bryan and Tregenza Roach campaigned hard and the voters were looking for a new start to the recovery. They decided it was time for a change. But of all the campaign promises, there’s one that matters more than any of the others.”
“Transparency,” Idle said. “On the campaign trail Bryan talked about an online searchable budget that provides all the information about the executive budget and how tax dollars are being spent. That would be wonderful. You know, there was a lot that Gov. Mapp (outgoing Gov. Kenneth Mapp) did that was good, getting the recovery underway. And his frequent news conferences in the months after the storms gave people a sense that things were being handled. But on a day-to-day basis, it was like pulling teeth getting a response from the Mapp administration. When you have a question, you expect to be able to call a your public spokesperson or a commissioner and get a response. Not get ignored, or told that they ‘don’t have to’ answer.”
“An online, searchable database that shows how tax dollars are being spent by the executive branch would make it easy for citizens to follow up on the progress towards all the other promises. Want to know whether the governor’s living expenses are being covered by him, or the government? Instead of asking, and getting told it’s none of the public’s business, we could click into the database and see for ourselves. And that goes with everything the government is doing.”
“So here’s hoping the new governor will follow through on that, and direct his commissioners to respond to requests for information and make reasonable efforts to provide public records. After all, they are public records. That’d be a great project for the executive branch to jump on right out of the gate,” he said. “Like the old philosopher said, ‘Well begun is half done.'”
“And here’s another, pretty simple way transparency could work. Maybe Government House could find a place where all the government-owned art can be displayed and seen by the public. I mean, what’s the point of just sort of ‘having it.’ It’s art. The public owns it. It’s supposed to be seen.”
He shifted his balance again, raising his arms and putting one foot forward into what we recognized as the Warrior Pose, and turned his attention to the Legislature.
“Speaking of new beginnings, has the Senate ever had such a turnover? Nine of the 15 seats are being taken this year by newcomers. That’s a lot of pressure on the body to learn the ropes of the process and work together to help find solutions for the territory’s needs. I don’t know about you, but a lot of times I think the Senate has been more interested in scoring political points, especially against the executive branch, than actually solving anything.”
We had to agree on that one.
“Now not only does the Legislature have a new face, but they’re mostly from the same party as the governor, so maybe they can work together to explore new revenue streams for the government, help establish agriculture as a viable industry, maybe take another look at – I almost can’t bring myself to say it – GERS.”
“Well, the Government Employees Retirement System is one of the biggest issues facing the government,” we said.
GERS is expected to run out of money in the next few years, maybe even before the new governor leaves office.
“Any thoughts on that?” we asked.
He dropped to one knee – or whatever they call what iguanas have where people have knees – and held the High Lunge pose as he continued.
“I had plenty of thoughts about that – a dozen years ago, when something might have been done to fix it. But did anyone listen? Of course not, I’m just an reptile. What do I know about long-term investments? It’s too late now. I’ll just say this. It’s WAY past time for the politicians to stop using the GERS as a piggy bank they can use to pay bonuses to retirees to lure their votes. When GERS goes down, those retirees will be getting a fraction of their current checks, barring the unlikely event of someone donating a billion dollars to the fund. All we can do at this point is try to stretch it out as long as possible. And that means lawmakers need to keep their hands off the money.”
“Wow,” we said. “That was kind of a downer.”
“Sorry,” Idle said, switching to the Cow Face Pose. (It’s a real thing. Look it up.) “I’ve got a few others.”
“Here are some other Idle thoughts I have for the new year.” He rattled them off, changing his yoga pose with each one.
– That construction of the parking structure in Red Hook, which is already 18 months overdue, is completed before it has to be closed down again to add a third story.
– That VIPA clears the abandoned cars from the gravel lot near the barge terminal on St. John and provides some lighting to one of the spookiest spots on the island.
– That Waste Management and free enterprise get together and have a love child named Bioremediation, using natural organisms to consume and break down environmental pollutants. On an island, that stuff’s gotta go somewhere. Bioremediation might be one answer.
– It’s a little thing, but could they add drinking fountains to our airport terminals, so people can fill up reusable water bottles? That way they don’t have to buy as many $3 water bottles that go straight to our overflowing landfills.
– That the Legislature stops bowing down to the taxi drivers and allow Uber and Lyft to function in the territory, so tens of thousands of visitors have a way to get around after dusk. Taxi drivers can jump on the bandwagon, offering their services on Uber too.
– That our leaders think twice about spending millions of dollars (local OR federal) on capital projects in coastal areas that are projected to disappear in a decade or so because of climate change. I mean, what’s the point of refurbishing something that any reasonable person can see is going to be underwater in a few decades?
– That V.I. government leaders set an example in austerity by volunteering to take a 10 percent cut in their salaries. Don’t try to dodge by saying it would “only be symbolic.” That’s exactly the point! It would be a symbol that politicians get it.
“That’s quite a list,” we told him.
“I’m quite an iguana,” he replied, and we couldn’t disagree. But something was bothering us.
“You’re really putting yourself out there,” we said. “A lot of people are likely to agree with all or part of this, but you must realize that there are some who will take offense, and they might come looking for you.”
“Yeah, I know. But that’s OK. I’m ready for that.”
He squatted, with his claws in close to his chest and his elbows (or whatever) pushing straight out.
“It’s a combination of the Chair pose and the Waterfowl. Get it?”
“I’m a sitting duck.”
Happy New Year.