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Turnbull Wants Acting Public Works Head to Take Over Department

Dec. 9, 2005 – Acting Public Works Commissioner George Phillips is on track to get the "acting" designation removed from his title after Gov. Charles Turnbull sent his name to the Legislature for approval.
Phillips has served as acting commissioner since March 12.
"Under his tenure, there have been major improvements in the services provided by Public Works," Turnbull wrote to Senate President Lorraine Berry when asking that the Legislature consider his nomination.
The governor said Phillips made major improvements in several areas, including repair and maintenance of roads, highways, government buildings and grounds. Additionally, the governor said he improved the operation and maintenance of the public parking lots and garages and the maintenance of public cemeteries.
Phillips said he has several items on his agenda, starting with the need to hire more engineers.
"So that we'll have the ability to plan, design and construct roads on a more timely basis," he said.
Phillips said that while funding will always be an issue, he said he hopes to convince the governor and the Legislature to come up with the money. He said engineers are also needed to review documents and inspect government projects.
One other task of his department, Phillips said, is the repair of government facilities.
"When there's a broken pipe in a government office, Public Works is the first to be called," he said.
He said sometimes projects are too large for the department so outside contractors must be called in, but he said that Public Works still has oversight.
Phillips said the department currently has a study underway to see how to best connect local roads to those with federal designation. And he plans to address traffic congestion on St. Thomas and hopes to complete the Christiansted by-pass on St. Croix so the Melvin Evans Highway will run from Frederiksted to Christiansted.
Phillips also said he wants to make improvements to St. Croix's Scenic Drive, including paving, to make it more accessible to visitors. He envisions a horse trail and scenic lookouts along the route.
He said that on St. John he wants to complete the paving on Bordeaux Road, pave Kinghill Road from Centerline Road to Coral Bay to provide an alternate access road should Centerline Road be closed, and improve Route 206. The road runs from Centerline Road through Catherineberg to the North Shore Road. He said this road could also serve as an alternate in case Centerline Road was blocked.
Phillips said that getting Eastern Cemetery open is also on his to-do list. He said before he came on the job, it was discovered that the cemetery was built on rock. Therefore, no graves could be dug.
However, he said that Public Works plans to install above-ground crypts that hold up to 48 caskets to alleviate the problem. He said that while many island graves are above the ground, this is the first time such a large structure will be used.
"The cemetery will be open shortly," he said.
Phillips said that space to build conventional cemeteries is just not available.
He said that buying more and better equipment so his staff can do the job rather than contract it out is also on his list.
"Especially in road side maintenance," he said.
He said Public Works is improving, but he needs more staff.
After graduating from the University of the Virgin Islands in 1980, he got a law degree from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn. Phillips joined Public Works in 1995 as deputy commissioner of operations. He served as assistant commissioner in 1997.
Earlier in his career, he held jobs at UVI, the V.I. Labor Department and the Education Department. Phillips then returned to Minnesota, where he worked as an attorney for West Publishing Co. and the law firm of Hansen and Reid.
After his first stint at Public Works, he worked again in Minnesota at the Hadley Phillips Law Office.
In 2001, he moved back to St. Thomas to work at the Attorney General's office before rejoining Public Works in 2005.

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