March 23, 2005 — The League of Women Voters is undermining its position as the champion of transparency in government by having as its president a person who defends closed door policies in her government agency clients.
In a territory woefully devoid of watchdogs and teeming with secrecy, corruption and obfuscation, we are deeply disturbed about the conflicts that Rosalie Simmonds-Ballentine brings to the table.
We have no problem with Ballentine serving V.I. government agencies such as the Economic Development Commission and the Public Services Commission. But a major problem arises when her public positions in defense of those agencies conflict with the League of Women Voters long-held principles and policies.
At a national convention in 1974, the league added to its list of governing principles the requisite that "government bodies protect the citizen's right to know by giving adequate notice of proposed actions, holding open meetings and making public records accessible."
In a Senate hearing this week, Ballentine, in her capacity as legal counsel for the EDC, vehemently defended her client's right to hold a closed door vote on a highly controversial matter that affects every taxpayer and telephone ratepayer in the Virgin Islands: tax benefits for Innovative Telephone.
How can the Virgin Islands League of Women Voters promote an open-door principle when its president publicly speaks in favor of and defends the opposite? By taking the position she did for her client, Ballentine has seriously damaged the leagues effectiveness and authority.
Nor is that the only conflict involving Ballentines professional role and her leadership of the league.
As league president, Ballentine recently allowed the solicitation of donations from EDC beneficiaries, wealthy business owners and others. Not only could this create a potential conflict for the league, which needs to safeguard its independence, but it would also seem to present a conflict for Ballentine in her role as legal counsel for the EDC.
Sadly, the Virgin Islands does not have a large pool of qualified and dedicated people who are willing to serve organizations such as the league. And the league is one of the few organizations in these islands serving as a much-needed watchdog, holding government officials and agencies accountable for their actions and demanding that government meetings, actions and documents be accessible to the public.
For that reason, we feel strongly that someone else needs to be leading the Virgin Islands League of Women Voters. We hope league members agree and act accordingly. We also hope Ballentine will acknowledge the clear conflicts between her professional and civic roles and ask herself, "Whom do I really represent?"
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