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Foundation to Develop, Promote Town Council Ideas

July 22, 2004 – The St. John Community Foundation is running with the ball Gov. Charles Turnbull handed the organization when he spoke at a town meeting on the island last Dec. 17.
The governor said at the town meeting that all the islands should have more autonomy. However, he particularly asked the Community Foundation to advise him on how it should work. (See "Turnbull Calls for Greater St. John Autonomy".)
The Community Foundation is moving full speed ahead on its vision of an island council.
"If you don't ask, you don't get," Lonnie Willis, foundation president, said at a meeting Thursday of the organization's Island Council Planning Committee held at Pine Peace School.
Over the next few months, the committee expects to launch a public relations and petition campaign to get its message out. Members will create brochures, develop a Web site, hold town meetings and take to the radio and television talk shows to educate residents about the benefits of an island council.
However, several committee members acknowledge it will be an uphill battle. Carole DeSenne, Community Foundation executive director, said the governor can create an island council by executive order, but Harry Daniel pointed out that funding for government departments such as Police and Public Works must be approved by the Legislature.
"And the governor is not going to give up power just like that," Daniel said.
Terry Conklin suggested that it would take a change in the territory's organic act to allow for an island council.
DeSenne noted that the Island Council Planning Committee's job is to gather information on how a council would work. She said the committee has no date to finalize a plan but is meeting every two weeks to expedite the matter.
The committee has started with a boilerplate charter that caused some members to raise questions about the broad powers it would grant to an island council.
"This is almost like a declaration of independence," Larry Best said.
DeSenne and others said that the boilerplate charter is just a starting point and that members will massage it into a form that fit the island's needs and desires. The first draft calls for six council members and a mayor to be elected at large from around the island. The council would oversee specifically for the island various departments now under the governor's thumb. However, the council size and makeup could change with further input from residents.
Steve Black said that St. Croix is closely watching St. John's efforts. Residents on both islands have often expressed frustration at the perceived short shrift they get from the central government with its capital on St. Thomas.
However, DeSenne said that St. John needs to concentrate on St. John, not St. Thomas and St. Croix.
"St. John can be a model," Martin Freeman added.

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