June 22, 2004 – Kenneth "Blakie" Blake, V.I. Carnival Committee chair, in a letter last Friday invited Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg to attend the 2004 Carnival Symposium this coming Saturday on St. Thomas. Donastorg in a letter on Tuesday accepted the invitation, saying "I would not miss it for the world."
No one, however, expects that the two will be glad to see each other at Palms Court Harborview Hotel, where the annual symposium is to take place.
In fact, to co-opt the colorful keyword of the 50th anniversary Carnival theme, their encounter-to-come has the makings of an old-time roogoodoo.
Donastorg, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, is in a standoff with Blake and Caswil Callender, V.I. Carnival executive director, over the issue of whether their committee is subject to the fiscal oversight of the Senate committee.
In May, Donastorg invited Blake and Callender to appear at a Finance hearing into V.I. Carnival finances. "Invited" in Senate parlance means you're expected to appear. When they failed to do so, the committee voted subpoena them both, along with the Carnival treasurer and certain financial documents.
At the next Finance meeting, on June 4, all three officials showed up, but they refused to supply the documents, contending that doing so would reveal trade secrets and privileged transactions and that as a not-for-profit corporation the V.I. Carnival Committee is not subject to Senate audit. (See "Carnival Committee Says No to Senate Audit".)
Donastorg contends that because the Carnival Committee receives hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in government appropriations, it is subject to Senate scrutiny. He fired off another letter on June 16 "inviting" the Carnival Committee to yet another hearing, set for July 6.
On Friday, Blake wrote back: "We made it abundantly clear during the Finance Committee's hearing on June 4 that we have no intentions of acquiescing to your demands for documents or information which we deem to be non-governmental." Further, he wrote, "As a result of our stance on this issue, the Finance Committee voted to initiate legal action against us. Therefore, we find you extremely imprudent to continue making demands on us without a judgment being rendered in the case."
He said the Legislature traditionally appropriates money to the Carnival Committee "because we provide a necessary service which cannot be provided by the government. That does not give you the authority to call us into a budget hearing. And in any case, the Legislature has never made an appropriation equal to the amount we have requested."
Blake continued: "It is becoming increasingly more obvious that while our mission is about preservation and perpetuation, yours is about demolition and destruction." Should the Legislature withhold future financial support, he said, "you may be overjoyed to learn that we will simply make major modifications to Carnival with the understanding that Carnival will no longer be the world-class celebration we have all become accustomed to … we will not allow ourselves to be subjected to any more tyrannical political maneuvering designed solely to arouse the emotions of the layman to garner votes for you."
Finally, he told Donastorg he was sending copies of the letter to the other 14 senators "since our experience with you shows that you cannot be trusted to convey information truthfully to your colleagues and constituency."
Donastorg in his Tuesday response took up gauntlet. He termed Blake's "blatant threats to disrupt our annual Carnival celebrations" as "not a flattering posture for those who portend to uphold local culture and traditions to take, especially as the rationale behind such threats is entirely ludicrous."
Noting that he also has sought financial information from the Crucian Christmas Festival and St. John July 4th Celebration committees, Donastorg told Blake: "Your aggressive posture is clearly a smokescreen as your extreme protests only reinforce the idea that there is something to hide … What could possibly be so controversial or scandalous in your financial records? Your posture has, quite honestly, further aroused my curiosity and created an aura of suspicion that was previously non-existent."
Blake in his letter placed the "economic worth" of V.I. Carnival at $65 million. If that's so, Donastorg said, "why isn't the Carnival Committee exceptionally profitable? … Even the Calypso Monarch, the de facto ambassador for V.I. Carnival, remains uncompensated for his efforts."
And as for Blake's threats to curtail the carnival festivities, Donastorg wrote: "Sadly, these threats are unnecessary as Carnival is already obviously on the decline. A lack of new ideas and ongoing vindictive posture of the leadership have hurt this celebration." He further accused Blake and Callender of "doing a great disservice to the many hard-working volunteers whose own credibility and sacrifices are being called into question as a result of your desire to hide the committee's financial records."
While the issue of the V.I. Carnival Committee's legal accountability to the Legislature remains to be resolved, something neither side has brought up is clear: The V.I. Carnival Committee as a not-for-profit V.I. corporation is required to submit annual financial statements to another governmental entity, the Corporations and Trademarks Division of the Lieutenant Governor's Office.
According to an office staff member, the Carnival Committee is current with its filings as of last year, with the next report due at the end of this month.
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