I had the opportunity to read the recent Op-Ed, entitled “Sarauw Says Magens Bay Bill Not Political,” and feel compelled to respond to several of the statements in that opinion that do not accurately represent existing facts. While I do not regularly write letters to periodicals, as a member of the Magens Bay Authority Board, I am not comfortable with allowing these statements to be placed in a public forum without a response that reflects the actual history and current efforts of the Board that are misrepresented in Senator Sarauw’s opinion letter.
Below, I have listed some of the erroneous statements made by the senator and respond to them individually:
“At present, Magens Bay lacks any authenticity and falls short in the local community involvement.” All meetings of the Board are open to the public, with meetings having been held at Shed 4 on Magens Bay prior to the pandemic. Since the advent of COVID-19, the Board has held meetings via Zoom technology, and members of the public are able to and have joined the meetings, which are typically held on the third Friday of each month. The Board also holds regular public town hall meetings to obtain feedback from the people of the Virgin Islands (in trust for whom the Magens Bay Authority operates the parks), and to provide information to those that may be unable to attend the regular meetings of the Board. Those meetings have been held at the Charlotte Amalie High School Cafeteria and Shed 2 at Magens Bay in the past.
“…it has long been recognized that we are not supporting our local craftsmen. We have woodworkers, painters, glass blowers, potters, and more. An association of guilds and artists should have a venue for their craft at Magens…I am disappointed that the present board characterizes these suggestions as circus entertainment.” The Authority has recognized the need for more local participation in the business opportunities at Magens Bay, and has included in its newly designed concession building (for which a CZM permit was recently approved), space for vendors that will be selling products made in the Virgin Islands. At no time has the Board characterized the sale of local crafts at Magens Bay as “circus entertainment”!
“The MBA Board insists they are not subject to the bidding process.” This is patently false; the Board has made no such claim. In fact, the Board’s Procurement Policy, adopted in 2017, speaks specifically to the cost thresholds that trigger the bidding process. Additionally, the current concessionaire was notified in 2012 that the concession contract (which was set to expire in DocuSign Envelope ID: 4828D17C-3B90-445F-A0F0-F771259EF0A2 January 2018) would be going out to bid. The impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria (along with the efforts to recover from those storms) were exacerbated by the advent of the pandemic and operated to delay the issuance of the Request for Proposals. However, a draft has already been prepared and is expected to be finalized within the coming months. The concessionaire has been notified that its current contract extension, which expires in 2021, will not be renewed.
“…we should also be able to discuss Mr. Fairchild’s 1945 statement in which he expected the Governor and Chairman of the Municipal Council to sit on the Board. There is no longer a municipality and the equivalent of that position today is the Senate President. Again, Mr. Fairchild’s intent and expectations are not being followed.” A review of the history demonstrates that it was after the formation of the St. Thomas Park Authority (the predecessor agency of the Magens Bay Authority) that Mr. Fairchild completed the transfer of the property to the Authority to be held in trust for the people of the Virgin Islands. This clearly validates his approval of the structure of the Authority, with the Governor as a member, but no representation from the Municipal Council. It is this quid pro quo that serves as the foundation for the contract between Mr. Fairchild and the Government of the Virgin Islands and which would be violated by the replacement of the current structure with one that is appointed by politicians. As has been pointed out by the Authority’s legal counsel, the proposed breach of this contract that was offered by Bill No. 33-0374 is unconstitutional, as it seeks to make a law that would impair a legally binding contract.
“The proposed legislation has nothing to do with politics.” The proposed legislation has everything to do with politics. The fact that a self-perpetuating Board that was created to operate an independent instrumentality of the Government of the Virgin Islands is proposed to be replaced by a Board that would be appointed by the Governor and approved by the Legislature of the Virgin Islands is nothing but an unneeded political adjustment to a Board that is functioning in the way it was intended — a non-political body acting in trust for the people. This, unfortunately, cannot be said of all government-related boards in the Territory, most of which are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Legislature and continue without the threat of political restructuring.
“The reappointment of family, friends and political bedfellows runs afoul of Mr. Fairchild’s vision especially given the lack of transparency and local participation.” This characterization of the composition of the Magens Bay Authority Board, aside from being woefully inaccurate, is one that detracts from the skills and capabilities of its members. Contained within the body are persons with DocuSign Envelope ID: 4828D17C-3B90-445F-A0F0-F771259EF0A2 training, skills and experience in construction management, document archiving, landscape design, business operations, human resources management, finance and accounting, education, law, land use planning and grant management. When a vacancy occurs, the Board attempts to fill that vacancy with skills that may be lacking. Its current composition is no grouping of “family, friends and political bedfellows”. It is, to the contrary, as Mr. Fairchild expressed his intent, a “group of public-spirited citizens including certainly some officials in office, and its representative character and permanence of tenure would place it apart from the stream of passing events.
While Senator Sarauw indicates that she welcomes a conversation “with any Virgin Islander regarding the proposed Magens Bay amendment,” she has never, to my knowledge, attended a general meeting (held on the third Friday of each month) or town hall meeting of the Board. Her proposed legislation was communicated to the Board one business day prior to its originally scheduled hearing, and the Board has yet to receive a copy of the most recent version of the proposed legislation.
The Board welcomes the opportunity to discuss any matter with Senator Sarauw and/or any of her colleagues; however, the publication of statements that do not accurately represent historical precedent or current operations of the Board should not be a part of the way a sitting senator in the Virgin Islands Legislature interacts with an instrumentality of the Government of the Virgin Islands.
The Board has demonstrated over the years that it is open to discourse with the public and operates in a transparent manner. Is it perfect? Certainly not. Is it functioning in a manner that fulfills the vision articulated by Arthur Fairchild? Definitely!
Respectfully submitted, Dayle Barry
Editor’s note: Dayle Barry is a member of the Magens Bay Authority Board.