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SENATOR FINALLY CONNECTS ON PHONE PROBES

May 4, 2001 – After more than two dozen tries in various guises, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg has finally succeeded in getting a bill passed and signed into law that will require the Public Services Commission to conduct rate investigations of the territory's telephone company every two years.
He did it by revising the measure to make the investigations mandatory for all public utilities regulated by the PSC, not just his true target, the Virgin Islands Telephone Corp., recently renamed Innovative Telephone.
However, all is not peaches and progress just yet.
"I'm pleased," Donastorg said Thursday, the day after Gov. Charles W. Turnbull announced that he had signed the bill into law, "but the governor now has to send down names of nominees to the PSC."
It's not a new concern for the scrappy senator. In January he complained publicly that the governor hadn't filled vacancies on the PSC, "let alone 'revitalize' it, as he pledged in his campaign." He said that when Turnbull took office more than two years ago, the governor had said that revamping the PSC would be "the first order of the day."
The PSC by law consists of seven voting members appointed by governor and confirmed by the Legislature, and two non-voting senators appointed by the Senate president. At present the commission comprises six appointed members, four of whose terms have expired. The six, with term expiration dates indicated, are:
– Walter Challenger, chair — June 1999.
– Dora S. Hill — June 1999.
– Desmond Maynard — February 2005.
– Luther Felix Renee — July 2001.
– Alecia M.Wells — April 2001.
– Patrick N. Williams — March 2000.
One appointive seat has been vacant for several years. As for the Senate seats, Keithly Joseph, PSC executive director, said Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd has told him he will probably renominate Donald "Ducks" Cole but hasn't decided on a replacement for Gregory Bennerson, who is no longer in office.
Joseph said, "To the best of my knowledge, names have been submitted for the board for some time now." No names have been announced by Government House, and no information could be obtained from the governor's office Friday morning.
In February 2000, Turnbull submitted the names of five nominees to the 23rd Legislature. One was Maynard, who was re-appointed. All four of the others declined the nominations.
"This is an extreme disservice to the community," Donastorg said Thursday. "The situation at the PSC is critical. We need new commissioners committed to reform and keeping rates affordable."
Donastorg got an earlier bill mandating PSC investigations of Vitelco through the Senate and up to Government House last year, but the governor vetoed it, saying he did so because the measure was directed only at the phone company.
Turnbull said Wednesday that he approved the new version of the bill because it was "across the board, for all utilities."
However, Donastorg said Thursday, "The catch is, the bill mandates the PSC should determine what consulting firm would do the investigation." His choice would be Georgetown Consulting Group, which has done work for the PSC for more than 20 years — but was dismissed by the PSC chair, Walter Challenger, in 1999.
Georgetown consultant Jamshed Madan testified in 1999 before the commission that Vitelco passes the cost of a rate investigation, along with a lot of other expenses, right back to its customers. Madan also was called to testify before a Committee of the Whole meeting of the 22nd Legislature convened by petition of Senate members to investigate the operations and practices of the PSC.
After members of the 22nd Legislature asked the PSC to consider a 20 percent telephone rate reduction in view of Vitelco's having been granted near-total tax exemptions by the Industrial Development Commission, Georgetown was hired to do a report on the telephone company practices. After doing that study, Madan recommended an investigation.
The PSC, under Challenger's leadership, dismissed Georgetown's recommendation, citing a spreadsheet error in Madan's report — which Madan said had no bearing on the investigation findings. The commission subsequently dismissed Georgetown, and longtime PSC legal counsel Maria Tankenson Hodge then resigned.
Meanwhile, Donastorg said Thursday he is not at all pleased with another of Turnbull's decisions announced Wednesday regarding bills sent up from the Legislature. The governor rejected Donastorg's resolution recommending an elected attorney general, a concept the public overwhelmingly endorsed in a referendum in last November's election.
"I guess in the 21st century, majority doesn't rule," Donastorg said.

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May 4, 2001 - After more than two dozen tries in various guises, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg has finally succeeded in getting a bill passed and signed into law that will require the Public Services Commission to conduct rate investigations of the territory's telephone company every two years.
He did it by revising the measure to make the investigations mandatory for all public utilities regulated by the PSC, not just his true target, the Virgin Islands Telephone Corp., recently renamed Innovative Telephone.
However, all is not peaches and progress just yet.
"I'm pleased," Donastorg said Thursday, the day after Gov. Charles W. Turnbull announced that he had signed the bill into law, "but the governor now has to send down names of nominees to the PSC."
It's not a new concern for the scrappy senator. In January he complained publicly that the governor hadn't filled vacancies on the PSC, "let alone 'revitalize' it, as he pledged in his campaign." He said that when Turnbull took office more than two years ago, the governor had said that revamping the PSC would be "the first order of the day."
The PSC by law consists of seven voting members appointed by governor and confirmed by the Legislature, and two non-voting senators appointed by the Senate president. At present the commission comprises six appointed members, four of whose terms have expired. The six, with term expiration dates indicated, are:
- Walter Challenger, chair -- June 1999.
- Dora S. Hill -- June 1999.
- Desmond Maynard -- February 2005.
- Luther Felix Renee -- July 2001.
- Alecia M.Wells -- April 2001.
- Patrick N. Williams -- March 2000.
One appointive seat has been vacant for several years. As for the Senate seats, Keithly Joseph, PSC executive director, said Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd has told him he will probably renominate Donald "Ducks" Cole but hasn't decided on a replacement for Gregory Bennerson, who is no longer in office.
Joseph said, "To the best of my knowledge, names have been submitted for the board for some time now." No names have been announced by Government House, and no information could be obtained from the governor's office Friday morning.
In February 2000, Turnbull submitted the names of five nominees to the 23rd Legislature. One was Maynard, who was re-appointed. All four of the others declined the nominations.
"This is an extreme disservice to the community," Donastorg said Thursday. "The situation at the PSC is critical. We need new commissioners committed to reform and keeping rates affordable."
Donastorg got an earlier bill mandating PSC investigations of Vitelco through the Senate and up to Government House last year, but the governor vetoed it, saying he did so because the measure was directed only at the phone company.
Turnbull said Wednesday that he approved the new version of the bill because it was "across the board, for all utilities."
However, Donastorg said Thursday, "The catch is, the bill mandates the PSC should determine what consulting firm would do the investigation." His choice would be Georgetown Consulting Group, which has done work for the PSC for more than 20 years -- but was dismissed by the PSC chair, Walter Challenger, in 1999.
Georgetown consultant Jamshed Madan testified in 1999 before the commission that Vitelco passes the cost of a rate investigation, along with a lot of other expenses, right back to its customers. Madan also was called to testify before a Committee of the Whole meeting of the 22nd Legislature convened by petition of Senate members to investigate the operations and practices of the PSC.
After members of the 22nd Legislature asked the PSC to consider a 20 percent telephone rate reduction in view of Vitelco's having been granted near-total tax exemptions by the Industrial Development Commission, Georgetown was hired to do a report on the telephone company practices. After doing that study, Madan recommended an investigation.
The PSC, under Challenger's leadership, dismissed Georgetown's recommendation, citing a spreadsheet error in Madan's report -- which Madan said had no bearing on the investigation findings. The commission subsequently dismissed Georgetown, and longtime PSC legal counsel Maria Tankenson Hodge then resigned.
Meanwhile, Donastorg said Thursday he is not at all pleased with another of Turnbull's decisions announced Wednesday regarding bills sent up from the Legislature. The governor rejected Donastorg's resolution recommending an elected attorney general, a concept the public overwhelmingly endorsed in a referendum in last November's election.
"I guess in the 21st century, majority doesn't rule," Donastorg said.