Sept. 8, 2005After eight hours of deliberation Thursday, senators approved six nominations to territory boards and commissions, as well as the governor's nomination to appoint Attorney Kerry Drue as Attorney General.
Drue, who has been acting in this capacity since the death of Attorney General Alva A. Swan, pleased senators early in her presentation by describing her work ethic. "I am a very hands-on person when it comes to my cases, I am efficient, prompt, can bring balance to my department, and I believe in a team approach," Drue said, "In addition, I believe that the law prevails above anything thing else, and that no one found doing something wrong should be exempt from it."
After being questioned by Sen. Lorraine L. Berry, Drue added this philosophy includes believing in punishment for government officials. "Laws are created for a reason. No one, even if they are public officials, should be allowed to circumvent the law," Drue said.
If there are conflicts of interest, however, Drue said she is working on hiring an attorney from the Solicitor General's office to help with certain cases.
Drue's plans for improving the Bureau of Corrections, addressing the shortage of assistant attorney generals across the territory, and providing programs for inmates after they are released from prison also put her on solid footing with senators.
"I have been working on addressing the complaints I've fielded from BOC officers since the first week I came on the job," Drue said. "I've held meetings with BOC, management, addressed some of the problems with working on the air-conditioning unit in the St. Thomas prison facility, and made sure the officers have received overtime pay for a pay period starting from November 2004 and ending in April of this year."
While Drue added that other issues do still need to be addressed within Corrections, she also said she is actively working on solutions. In addition to interviewing individuals to relieve the corrections officer shortage on both St. Thomas and St. Croix, Drue said she would be submitting a supplemental budget to garner more money for the BOC's needs.
"This also includes funds for fixing the Golden Grove prison facility in St. Croix," Drue said. "However, this project will be undertaken in parts, because it will be very expensive to get everything done. I'm working on talking to various officials to see whether we can eventually utilize inmate labor to supplement some of the costs."
Drue said that she is also working on making "corrections" to the corrections officers. Responding to questions from Sen. Liston Davis, Drue acknowledged she has heard rumors about sexual liaisons between officers and inmates, as well as officers who sell drugs and alcohol to prisoners. "This will not continue. I do know that there are some very interesting things going on in the BOC, and I am working on it," Drue said.
However, Drue stated a lack of funds, coupled with a shortage of assistant attorney generals in the Virgin Islands prevents things from moving forward quickly. While Drue said she is also working on these problems, Sen. Ronald Russell provided his own suggestions. "I know that the attorney general's office is supposed to defend the government and all of its agencies," Russell said. "But when we were reviewing the budget this year, I noticed all these line items calling for funds for private law firms that the government is also hiring to represent themin addition to having the AG handle cases."
Russell said money used by the government for private agencies should be given to Drue for the hiring of other attorneys. "That way, we can curb the shortage," Russell said.
With more attorneys, Drue said she would be able to concentrate more on white collar and the plethora of homicides the territory has seen in the past year.
Re-entry programs for inmates are also a priority for Drue. Working with the BOC's Acting Director Joseph Ponteen, Drue said vocational courses in computers, carpentry, and other skills will be or are being offered so that prisoners do not return to the streets." About 30 percent to 40 percent of prisoners in the Golden Grove prison facility are repeat offenders," Drue said. "We want to help stop that from happening. We also have a counselor who works with inmates to help them find jobs, housing, etc. once they're released."
The senators' vote for Drue's appointment was unanimous, and she will appear before the full body for final approval.
Senators also voted to renominate Alric Simmonds and Alecia M. Wells to the Public Services Commissiondespite some senators' beliefs that both candidates may have conflicts of interest serving in this capacity. Senators voted to hold the renominations in committee at the last Rules and Judiciary meeting, but a motion brought forth by Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. Thursday called for a reconsideration of that vote.
Once another vote was taken, Sens. Berry, Pedro Encarnacion, Shawn-Michael Malone, and White showed support for the renominations, while Sens. Usie R. Richards and Russell were opposed to motion.
Others candidates approved by senators Thursday were:
–Louise O. Petersen to the Historic Preservation Commission.
–Raymond Williams and Joseph Boshulte to the PSC.
–Madaline H. Sewer, Julien Harley, and Andrew Penn Sr. to the Coastal Zone Management Commission.
Although CZM's candidates were approved, senators were not happy to learn Sewer and Harley have been on the commission for over ten years. When asked why efforts are not ongoing to find new members, Sewer said it is hard to find individuals who want to serve on the commission. However, White said the public is not being informed of positions open, and therefore can't serve.
"There is a law that states once a spot on these boards and commissions open it has to be advertised in the newspapers, or through the other media, to the public. This is not happening and that's why we see people serving on these commissions for so many years," White said. Harley said since he is looking to find two additional people to serve on the commission, he will advertise the positions.
As most of the day was taken up considering nominations, senators quickly, quietly, and unanimously approved five bills and sent them onto the full senate body for consideration:
–To establish a chief of police in each district of the V.I. Not only does this eliminate the territorial police chief, but an amendment introduced by Russell gives the commissioner, and not the governor, the authority to hire these individuals. This bill, if approved by the full body and signed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, will be effective Oct. 1.
–To create the Identity Theft Act of 2005. This bill delineates policies for both a victim and perpetrator of identity theft.
–To increase the minimum wage to $6.15 beginning Oct. 1, 2007 (See " Senate Committee Approves Minimum Wage Increase").
–To add language to the V.I. Code seeking to prevent employers from manipulating the unemployment insurance system to pay lower unemployment compensation taxes.
–To appropriate $750,000 from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the V.I. Police Department for the construction of three mobile substations and vehicle storage facilities for St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. Some money will also be spent on repairs to police headquarters in Bournefield, St. Thomas, as well as the completion of an additional substation on St. John.
Present at Thursday's meeting were Sens. Berry, Davis, Encarnacion, Malone Richards, Russell, and White. Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson was absent.
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