Aug. 27, 2004 – In sharp contrast to an Aug. 12 Senate Rules Committee hearing where three of four St. Croix nominees to the Horse Racing Commission failed to appear, Thursday's Rules meeting saw the unanimous approval of three nominees to the commission — two for St. Thomas and one for St. Croix.
Approval of the nominees creates a breath of fresh air for the commission, which has had a tumultuous year or so on both islands with changes in management of the tracks and disputes with the franchise owners. The Horsemen's Association of St. Croix has filed suit in Territorial Court against the commission and its members, alleging that they collected fees and illegally diverted funds for personal use.
Thursday's Rules meeting, in contrast, was marked by a spirit of conviviality as Louis A. Hassell II of St. Croix and Norma Pickard-Samuel and Lindley "Buddy" Kennings of St. Thomas were questioned. prior to the favorable votes.
The committee also unanimously approved the nomination of Fern Richards LaBorde of St. Thomas to the Coastal Zone Management Commission.
Hassell comes by his horse-racing background naturally. His father, the late Louis Hassell, was one of the best-known and respected horsemen in the territory and a long-time Immigration and Naturalization Services inspector.
Hassell said he was taught about horses by his father from 5 years of age and learned to care for the senior Hassell's champions, such as Lady Ann and Mr. Dash. Carrying on in the tradition of his father, he now owns A-Wi, whom he calls an "upcoming" native race horse.
He has great visions for St. Croix's Randall "Doc" James Racetrack, which he said under proper management could attract "3,000 to 5,000 visitors on a race day." He has set his sights high "ultimately establishing our own V.I. and/or Caribbean Triple Crown."
Hassell has a law-enforcement background and is currently a security inspector for the Water and Power Authority on St. Croix. He said that with his background he can help develop a more secure environment at the St. Croix track.
Under questioning by the senators about the lawsuit on St. Croix, Hassell said many things should be done to clean up the commission's image. He refrained from making specific comments, however, noting "it is hearsay until it is over."
He did say that "we have to keep better track of records and make those records open to the public." He also speculated that there may have been too much power in the hands of the commission's St. Croix chair.
Hassell had his own cheering section in the gallery — his mother, Esonia Monsanto Hassell, the first Board of Education executive director; his sister Lois Hassell Habteyes, Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School assistant principal; and his uncle Austin "Babe" Monsanto. Monsanto, a CZM commissioner, was wearing two hats; he also was there to support LaBorde's nomination to the commission.
Norma Pickard-Samuel, who served in the 24th Legislature, shared several ideas for improving St. Thomas's Clinton E. Phipps Track.. She deplored the physical condition of the track, saying, "It is in need of an upgrade."
Horse racing "is not a mere hobby of mine, but a passion," she said. Noting that she has been an avid rider since childhood, she added: "I know first hand what it takes to care for horses."
Pickard-Samuel said as a member of the commission she would have three main objectives:
– To address the "unhealthy and unsanitary" condition of the stables. "Being forced to live under these conditions can only diminish the physical condition and vitality of the horses," she said.
– To bring about "vast improvements … on the surface of the track and its overall appearance."
– To provide for proper retirement of the horses, something that she said has been neglected.
"The abundance of abused, sick and stray horses has been a problem in the territory for a long time," she said. She noted the recent formation of the V.I. Community Cooperative Thoroughbred Retirement Effort, a not-for-profit agency that is arranging to send retired horses off island. She said she hope the commission can develop a relationship with the group.
Kennings, needed no introduction. Thanks to his "Really Great Sports Show" on WVWI Radio, his voice is well-known in the community, as is his enthusiasm for horse racing. He said he has spoken to previous commission members and the Horse Owners Association and many fans, and they have "one common goal — to see the sport of kings improved in the V.I."
Kennings said his first business as a commission member would be to review its current contracts and agreements. Next, he said, would be to enforce commission rules and regulations.
Equally important, Kennings said, he wants to work to regain respect for the commission from all involved in horse racing. He said he wants to collaborate with other islands in setting race dates that do not conflict. He said he would suggest to the track's next promoter that a device be installed to provide an accurate count of attendance on race days.
LaBorde was the Planning and Natural Resources Department's permits coordinator for 11 years, working closely with the CZM Commission. As liaison to the commission she participated in the review of applications for major and minor permits.
Currently, LaBorde is executive assistant and administrative law judge with the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department. She is well-known in the community, having served as president of the St. Thomas-St. John unit of the American Cancer Society for the last eight years.
Under questioning by Sen. Lorraine Berry, LaBorde said she is familiar with the massive Land and Water Use Plan now before the Senate Planning and Natural Resources Committee. "I helped with the first plan many years ago," she said. "I attended hearings and I have looked at the current plan online."
Regarding the plan's potentially far-reaching impact, she said: "You have to make tough decisions." On further questioning by the senators, LaBorde said she believes the territory's beaches should be open to public access.
LaBorde said she would encourage "proper development" in the Virgin Islands. "If we are to maintain the 'America's Paradise' slogan," she said, "we must first be conscious of balancing the cultural, environmental, social, economic and structural images around us, which are tantamount to successful projects and beautiful islands."
Committee members present Thursday were the chair, Sen. Roosevelt David; and Sens. Berry, Douglas Canton Jr., Carlton Dowe and Louis Hill. Sens. David Jones and Ronald Russell were absent
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