Sen. Kenneth Gittens has called on the Water and Power Authority to disband its governing board and reform under new rules recently upheld in court. WAPA contends it has no such power.
Gittens’ office released a statement Friday hailing a March 8 Superior Court ruling against efforts by Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. to delay or stop the board reshuffle. “WAPA’s failure to comply with the law was very regrettable as the delay cost both time and money,” Gittens said.
“Senators united for real reform at WAPA by voting for a new board composed of individuals with greater expertise in energy, technology, economics, and finance,” Gittens said in the media release. “The Court has now ordered that WAPA must comply with these changes and that the Legislature acted fully within its authority.”
Andrew Smith, WAPA’s CEO, said Friday that Gittens mischaracterized the Authority as not complying with the court order. Board members are appointed by the governor.
“WAPA, as the senator describes it, has no control of its board members. It is the other way around,” Smith told the Source.
In May 2021, the Legislature passed an act reducing the size of the WAPA board from nine members to seven and allowed board meetings to go forward with only four members present rather than five. It also required members to reside in the districts they represent and all non-government members to have formal education in any one of several fields, from energy production to information technology.
Under the pre-existing law, the governor appointed three members of the board from among his cabinet. The new law removed two of those and appointed the director of the Virgin Islands Energy Office as the sole cabinet-level member on the board.
Bryan promptly vetoed the legislation. The Senate then overrode the veto, meaning the board change was law. Bryan sued, arguing in part that the new law was simply a way of reducing the Executive Branch’s influence at WAPA. The suit also argued the law was incompatible with WAPA governing documents. Board members can only be removed before the end of their three-year terms for cause — meaning they’d done something wrong.
Government House representatives didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.
Gittens didn’t address the Board bylaws question in his press release and his office did not return messages seeking further comment.
“It took 18 months for the Court to rule; however, this decision is a win for the ratepayers and a step towards greater accountability at the utility,” the St. Croix senator said in the media release.
“We passed this reform legislation on behalf of ratepayers,” he said. “This body established the V.I. Water and Power Authority Board, to include its composition, and it is within our power to reorganize or dismantle it if such an initiative is in the best interest of the people of this territory.”