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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 12, 2024


June 5, 2001 — Before legislators take up the nomination of Cecil Benjamin to be commissioner of Labor, they will first convene in a Committee of the Whole to take more input on the controversial nominee.
Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd confirmed recently that he agreed to the request of his vice president, Sen. Adelbert Bryan, to call a Committee of the Whole meeting. Bryan wants to take more testimony about corruption allegations against Benjamin made during a Senate Rules Committee hearing last month. The allegations stem from Benjamin’s 20-year tenure as president of the St. Croix chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.
The Rules committee in May voted to forward the nomination to the full Senate with an unfavorable recommendation. Bryan, however, requested that before the nomination went before the full Senate for a vote, a Committee of the Whole meeting be called to look into the allegations made against Benjamin, including misrepresentation and misappropriation of teachers union funds and failure to represent AFT members properly in negotiations with the Turnbull administration.
At a recent St. Croix Chamber of Commerce function, Liburd said he, too, would prefer to take up the issue again before it goes to the floor for a vote. However, he said, the decision to convene a Committee of the Whole wasn’t made to punish Benjamin.
"It’s not anything we’re trying to do to hold up Mr. Benjamin’s nomination," Liburd said. "Time is tight because we have a [full] session on June 25."
But Sen. David Jones said the idea of a Committee of the Whole meeting is nothing but an effort by the Senate majority – of which Liburd and Bryan are members – to obstruct the Turnbull administration.
"I think the Rules Committee acted," Jones said. "I don’t think we need to go through a Committee of the Whole; to do what?"
Jones said the allegations against Benjamin – made by current and former AFT members – aren’t related to his nomination as Labor commissioner.
"This is a trial of the AFT. It has nothing to do with Mr. Benjamin as head of Labor," Jones said.
Bryan, meanwhile, has also called on certain members of the 24th Legislature to recuse themselves for the vote on Benjamin’s nomination. He noted that Sen. Vargrave Richards served as a vice president of the St. Croix AFT under Benjamin. Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, a former teacher, also was a member of the St. Croix chapter.

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