Jan. 6, 2002 – The Crucian Festival is all but over, but celebrations on St. Croix continue with post-inaugural festivities on Wednesday for second-term Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and his new lieutenant governor, Vargrave Richards. Unlike the carnival events, however, the island's inaugural observance will not be one big, happy party.
Plans were laid at a meeting on Sunday at Island Center for demonstrations to protest the large raises the Senate awarded the two chief executives and themselves a couple of weeks ago.
"Our intent is to embarrass the governor," Terrence Nelson, union leader and spokesman for the impromptu group organizing the protest, said on Sunday.
The group has garnered about 500 signatures on a petition decrying the raises, he said, and it will be presented to administration officials on Wednesday.
About 50 people showed up for the Island Center meeting to express their outrage at the raises that will push the governor's salary to $135,000 from $80,000, the lieutenant governor's to $115,000 from $75,000 and the senators' to $85,000 from $65,000.
"I am a taxpayer, citizen and resident of the Virgin Islands," Steven Mayers said on Sunday. "I think that more than qualifies me to speak on this issue.
"Our governor is one resident of the Virgin Islands least in need of a raise," he said, pointing out that taxpayers pay all of Turnbull's expenses, including all the meals he eats. "The only time we don't pay for a meal is if you take him into your home and feed him yourself. I think it's particularly unfair since there are so many of us with mortgages and kids in school."
Tyrone Molyneaux, president of the St. Croix local of the American Federation of Teachers, said the raises were implemented at a time when the attention of many Virgin Islanders was diverted by the Crucian Festival, but the pay hikes are not set in stone. "I think the community has a history of just letting things go by," he said. "It's interesting that this all was happening during carnival, but I don't believe we should say this is a done deal."
He pointed out that the government still owes teachers retroactive pay and salary increases for this school year.
Those attending the meeting included labor leaders, government employees and strong representation of business owners and others in the private sector. One suggested action was to stage a strike by government workers and private businesses closing their doors.
"I was happy to see the turnout as it relates to the makeup of the crowd," Nelson said afterward. "Obviously, the private sector is also concerned about how public funds are being spent. That proves our concern is being felt by all areas of our community."
While the strike suggestion met some resistance, Nelson said such a move is not out of the question. "Right now we're building public awareness, and we don't want that to be the first option," he said. "But we're willing to go the distance, and if that means a shutdown, then we'll do that."
Hope Gibson, an unsuccessful candidate in this year's senatorial race on St. Croix, said an effective course of action would be to write to stateside politicians about the misuse of public funds in the Virgin Islands. She said Delegate Donna M. Christensen has stated publicly that she is under pressure about the pay raises from Washington, D.C., political brass.
"We need to find out who's putting pressure on her," Gibson said, suggesting that once that is accomplished, mass e-mails then be sent to those persons about the "corrupt government" of the Virgin Islands. "We cannot do it alone; we need outside help," she said.
Nelson noted that senators are saying the money to fund their raises will come from the Legislature's existing 2003 budget and will not be "new" funding. "Where does the Legislature's budget come from? Taxpayers!" he said. Meanwhile, he said, the services that taxes fund — such as roads, health care and education — in the Virgin Islands are "defunct, inoperable or dysfunctional."
"I say we should ask the governor, lieutenant governor and senators to reconsider or delay the implementation of the proposed raises until they can show that the economy is moving in a progressive manner," Nelson said.
The first step in making that request is to demonstrate public discontent about the raises at the "post-inaugural ceremony" set for noon Wednesday in Frederiksted's Buddhoe Park. "We're asking the community who are in support of us to come and wear black, or black armbands, and bring placard signs and bullhorns," Nelson said.
He said those wishing to take part in the protest should meet at the park at 11:30 a.m.
Also Wednesday, a public reception at Government House in Christiansted is planned for 4:30 p.m. The group intends to meet again and march on Government House in protest, too, Nelson said.
"We're hoping that the governor will be as responsible as he should be in seeing that maybe this is an inappropriate time to institute raises of this sort," Nelson said. At a minimum, he said, a representative of the governor should meet with the protesters to hear their complaints.
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