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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, May 18, 2024


The main byproduct of Wednesday night's Senate Government Operations Committee hearing on St. Thomas was bickering, as vendors and Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Andrew Rutnik disagreed on just about everything.
The meeting, the third held on new vendor regulations, was requested by Sen. Adelbert "Bert" Bryan to resolve differences between the vendors and the licensing agency. Bryan, who was not present, had sent a letter to committee chair Gregory Bennerson asking to be excused from the meeting.
Testifying along with Rutnik were Diane Magras, V.I. Vendors Association president, and Vincent Thompson, a vendor.
The pace for the evening was set when Rutnik commented, "Maybe the Legislature should take over the vendors, and leave DLCA out of it."
Magras, whose organization has about 60 members, led off with a long list of complaints against the agency — and against Rutnik in particular, claiming he only "passed though the plaza in minutes," did not mingle with the vendors or listen to their problems, and "showed no respect." She cited as the vendors' main concerns a need for restroom facilities, a wheelchair-access ramp and a permanent roof over the plaza, located between Emancipation Garden and the waterfront.
The most hotly debated issue, however, was whether a vendor's DLCA-assigned site in the plaza could be handed down to a surviving family member, should the vendor die. Magras argued in favor of the idea and Rutnik strongly opposed it.
"I have a waiting list of over 100 people right now," he said, "and that will never happen while I'm commissioner. I will stake my integrity on that."
He said people who have applied for vendor spaces come by his office regularly to see how far their names have moved up on the list.
Rutnik expressed concern that an illegal practice may be taking place in the plaza. He said he has a signed statement from a woman who came to his office saying that a downtown shop owner was paying $1,000 a month to a vendor to front his merchandise. Rutnik said he will investigate the allegation.
Vendors pay the government a uniform fee of $200 a year for their spots. Rutnik said he wants the government to get an appraisal of the plaza's square footage and make a recommendation as to what fair market value rents should be.
The senators obviously grew tired of the bickering as the evening wore on. Magras kept referring to Bryan's demonstrated interest in the vendors' well-being in requesting the meeting. Bennerson reminded her more than once that all of the senators present wanted to see the new vendor rules and regulations implemented fairly.
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, in obvious frustration, said at one point, "I thought at the last meeting we told you to iron out your differences before coming back to us." Magras replied that the vendors held a meeting to discuss matters with Rutnik, but he didn't appear. Rutnik responded that he had been off-island on the date of the meeting and had sent his deputy in charge of vendors to represent the department.
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd also said the vendors and regulators "should have had things straightened out already" before coming to Wednesday's hearing. Bennerson suggested they do so before another is held. He then asked the parties when they would be ready. Magras responded "tomorrow." Rutnik said possibly before June 15.
Attending the meeting were committee members Bennerson, Lorraine Berry, Cole, Roosevelt David, David Jones, Liburd and Allie-Allison Petrus. Police Chief Jose Garcia also appeared. Tourism Commissioner-designate Rafael Jackson and St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce president John deJongh Jr. had been invited by the committee to testify, but didn't appear.

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