Feb. 3, 2005 On Monday, the newly elected members of the Senate Rules Committee will hold their first meeting, but the cloud of sexual harassment that marred the closing days of the 25th Legislature will hover once again though this time above Col. Eddy Charles.
Committee Chairman Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone and Sens. Lorraine Berry, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, and Celestino White Sr. along with Usie Richards, who was accused of sexual harassment in the previous Legislature, will decide whether Charles will serve as the V.I. National Guard's adjutant general.
Sen. Ronald Russell, who is also Rules Committee member, has said he will not vote on Charles' nomination.
In January, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull nominated Charles for the post. Charles has been a member of the V.I. Army National Guard since 1976. He has held various offices and received numerous decorations, including the meritorious Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal. He also served as the former director of the Law Enforcement Planning Commission and as the governor's drug policy advisor. (See "Eddy Charles Tapped for National Guard Top Spot").
However, since Charles, who is currently the acting adjutant general, was tapped for the top post in the National Guard, a pending sexual harassment case filed against him five years ago has come to light.
In October of 1999, a secretary of the National Guard filed a sexual harassment complaint with the National Guard Bureau against Charles, who was then chief of staff for the guard. In her complaint, the woman stated that Charles had sexually harassed her. She said she was discriminated against based on her gender, retaliated against and subjected to a hostile work environment from April 1998 to September 1999.
The National Guard Bureau Equal Opportunity Office, in a hearing in August 2000, found Charles guilty on all counts. Based on the findings, then-Adjutant General Cleave McBean notified Charles that he would be removed from his Guard position.
Charles wrote back stating that he was innocent and the victim of a conspiracy "to take me down" because the governor had proposed to nominate him as the next adjutant general. His accuser then took the case to court in November of 2000, the outcome of which is still pending in federal court, although several charges against him have since been dismissed a charge of breach of contract for the termination of the woman's employment, and charges of harassment and retaliation in his official capacity for claims before April of 2001.
Charles said Thursday evening that the situation was a smear campaign to influence the senators to vote against him.
"I cannot comment on the case, because it is pending," Charles said. "But I will say that I am innocent. My professionalism and character speak for themselves."
Russell served as the woman's attorney at the onset of the lawsuit in 2000, and the senator, who spoke from his cell phone in Washington Thursday, said, "I am still involved with the case."
In a release issued from Russell's office Wednesday, he stated, while he does not doubt Charles' qualifications for the position, he would not vote on his nomination.
"Since I was the attorney representing the plaintiff in that sexual harassment lawsuit, it is obligatory for me to recuse myself from the vote on Col. Charles' nomination," Russell said, adding he would attend the meeting to vote on other nominations before the committee.
Concerning his continued involvement in the case since he took oath as a senator, Russell said, "There were certain cases I just could not abandon. But I have suspended all criminal practice, terminated my contract with the V.I. Board of Education and stopped all administrative practice."
Malone said Thursday he could not tell whether Russell's decision to recuse himself would affect the outcome of the vote on Charles' nomination, but said Charles had been "very cooperative" to his staff when interviewed and asked to submit certain documents and reports.
"He's proven to be very transparent," Malone said. "I think when my colleagues get the information, they can make a fair vote. Hopefully, we can all proceed maturely in this case."
However, some in the community do not see the matter as simply as Malone does, and are left with a bitter taste in their mouth as yet another public official is accused of sexual harassment an issue that is often taken lightly by men and women alike in the territory, and which continues to plague all facets of this society.
Iris Kern, director of the Safety Zone on St. John, said she cannot say whether Charles is guilty or innocent, but just having that cloud over him makes him less suitable for the position of adjutant general.
"I can't believe that we don't have candidates in the Virgin Islands who don't have any clouds over their heads," Kern said. "What message are we giving to the women and the children of the territory by hiring these people with clouds over their heads."
Kern said women should feel that they have a safe working environment and be able to serve without fear of being harassed, discriminated against, or retaliated against for bringing such matters as sexual harassment to light.
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