Open forum — St. Thomas
Silence is consent. Immediately after being sworn into office, Governor deJongh announced to the public that he would continue to live at his private home and it was made clear that he would not occupy the Government House in St. Thomas. This decision was based on the fact that Government House had already been converted from an official residence to an administrative building equipped with offices; a determination was made that it was unsuitable as a home for the family-oriented Governor with a wife, children and an elderly aunt whom was being cared for by the First Lady.
There were no objections to the Governor maintaining his residency at Estate Mafolie until two years later. Although the security work at the estate was completed by early 2008, in June of 2009, Sen. Donastorg falsely accused the Governor of using public funds to make improvements (not related to security) on the Mafolie residence . In a press release issued a month later, the Governor responded by stating he did not wish to dignify the slanderous remarks of the senator; however, he denied the allegation and dismissed the matter as "talk radio conspiracy chatter."
It is from this moment that the silence turned into a noisy uproar. It became a hotly debated topic on radio talk programs and escalated into a relentless political witch hunt against the Governor. Several talk show hosts, of a particular radio station, began denigrating the deJongh family and labeling the use of public funds as the"Mafoliegate" scandal; the Governor's political enemies resorted to spreading even more propaganda on the talk programs and on two despicable websites.
The Revised Organic Act was violated when former governors neglected to maintain the Government House on St. Thomas as the Governor's official residence; yet, none of them was penalized or subjected to the type of scrutiny that Governor deJongh has been enduring since being elected. He simply adhered to the established practice and opted to remain living at his Mafolie Estate.
In a letter dated Jan. 22, 2007, V.I. Solicitor General Elliott Davis stated that security improvements at Estate Mafolie were permissible under the law. Despite this legal opinion and authorization from several agencies to use public funds for security upgrades at Mafolie, Sen. Donastorg persisted in pursuing the matter and made a complaint to the U.S. Department of Interior.
Consequently, an investigation was conducted in 2009 (Aug-Nov) by an Inspector General (IG) and an IG Report that maligned the Governor's character was released on Jan 19, 2010.The report alleges that it is improper for the Governor to reside at his Mafolie Estate and that the funds used to make security upgrades at his private residence were intended for road projects only.
Isn't interesting that the IG Report was posted on a website known for its smutty content only three days prior to the State of the Territory Address? Moreover, was the timing of its release a coincident or was it intentionally published before the Governor delivered the Address in order to distract him?
In addition to making recommendations concerning the suitability of Government House as a residence, the IG Report suggests that the Governor should "pursue legislation that would identify alternative accommodations." Why is a different standard being applied to the present Governor? No governor has resided at Government House since Governor Farrelly. Were those governors who chose to live elsewhere asked to seek legislation that would identify alternative accommodations?
A damaging aspect of the IG Report is the allegation that the Executive Branch "circumvented the Legislative Branch by using a legal opinion to justify spending almost half-a-million dollars of legislatively obligated funds for security improvements at the Governor's private residence."This seems to be a contradiction, because the same report mentions that public funds were improperly used. How was the law circumvented if the almost half-a-million dollars were "legislatively obligated funds for security?"
According to the Governor's Nov 6, 2009 statement, a security vulnerability assessment of Estate Catherineberg determined that the "property lacked security fencing, surveillance and other equipments needed to provide adequate security in this post 9/11world." He further stated that to live there would have been more costly than the almost half-a-million dollars used to construct a guard house,gate and fence and the installation of security cameras at his Mafolie residence.
The IG Report says that "the Legislature passed Act No 6917, reprogramming the 1.3 million for the specific purposes of engineering design, construction, repair, or resurfacing of roads." The language is vague concerning the specific types of construction and repair;however,the security work done at Mafolie involved construction and repair. Act No 6917 was not interpreted by the deJongh's administration to mean that only road projects were to be completed with the reprogrammed funds.
Nevertheless, the IG Report implies that the deJongh administration willfully misused funds intended for road projects. The IG wants the Governor to return all the funds used for security upgrades including $156.160.00 spent to construct the driveway and parking..These road projects are now permanent at Mafolie, but the Governor has promised to pay for items that cannot be removed from the premises.
Governor deJongh had already stated that he would sign an agreement that would legally obligate him to fulfill his promise. Why, then, the IG wrote that he should "ensure that funds redirected to the Department of Public Works...for security at the Governor's private residence be returned?"
The conclusion that I have reached is that Sen. Donastorg, a defeated gubernatorial candidate, has stoop to the lowest level of mudslinging in an attempt to discredit the Governor. Unfortunately, the senator has not been able to rise above pettiness and has not recovered from being ousted from the Senate President's seat.
I am confident that Governor deJongh will be vindicated and the matter will be eventually put to rest. In the end, the lies and misinformation of his political enemies will be disregarded by the silent majority and the people will make the right decision at the election polls.
Verdel L. Petersen
Kingshill, St. Croix