July 22, 2005 — Recently, I had the opportunity to attend several community meetings. One involved members of the French community held in Frenchtown on St. Thomas to discuss new traffic regulations limiting access to Frenchtown from Veterans Drive. Another was a parent-teacher association meeting on the lack of repair work at Central High School required to meet re-accreditation requirements. The third meeting was called by fishermen on St. Croix who were concerned about their future in light of proposed government regulations restricting fishing areas.
There was no legislation for consideration, just discussion of the daily impact of government decisions on the lives of ordinary citizens but I came away from all these meetings reinforced in my belief that government works best when it actively involves the people most affected by its actions or proposals, and that sometimes a sharp elbow to the ribs is needed to make government officials responsive. It was obvious that a broader and better range of ideas and information became available when individuals stood up and spoke. It was clearly evident during the meetings on the proposed traffic regulations and school repairs that, unless there was community consensus and communication, the proposed actions would create more ill will than efficiency.
The Virgin Islands has an extraordinarily diverse population and broad range of talent. It has become increasingly evident that government officials are either unable or unwilling to tap into these exceptional resources. More and more we find the same officials meeting and talking exclusively among themselves as they seek to develop policies and programs affecting our community. And over and over again, these same officials act surprised, if not angered, when the community responds to their proposals with loud disapproval. Government officials have said that when they called for community involvement, little was forthcoming.
Whose fault is this?
If government officials call for a meeting, but then there is no official feedback or a dialogue on the merits of the public's suggestions, people can only feel they were "gamed". Government officials can and must lose their arrogance and facilitate consensus.
As a community we can learn to reach out to others, to involve not only those who have lost faith in government, but to involve those who have never been made to feel included in the processes of our government. It does not matter whether one was born here or born there when it comes to the search for good ideas and suggestions as to how we might better run our government and organize our communities.
No one politician or government official has all the answers, but given the opportunity to be heard each group within our community is able to contribute to the improvement of the lives of us all.
The same people, sitting in the same high level jobs year after year, or on the same boards and commissions, or multiple boards and commissions, trying to solve the very problems they created is not the solution. I know we can do better than this. Together we can!
Editor's note:: John deJongh is a former Finance commissioner, was a special assistant to Gov. Alexander Farrelly and primary author of the Five Year Operating and Strategic Financial Plan written at the behest of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to email@example.com.