Feb. 9, 2006 – For the second time, V.I. senators were not in favor of having Alric Simmonds serve another term on the Public Services Commission board. During a Rules and Judiciary Committee meeting Thursday on St. Croix, committee members voted to send Simmond's nomination to the full Senate body with an unfavorable recommendation.
Simmonds' renomination to the PSC board last came up for consideration during a Legislative session in September, when senators said they were concerned that Simmonds' presence on the board presented a conflict of interest because he is Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's chief of staff. (See "Simmonds Nomination Nixed by Senate, 8 Others Approved".)
At the beginning of Thursday's meeting, Sen. Lorraine L. Berry asked Simmonds why he felt that his nomination would be approved after already being rejected.
"Since September, I have met with many of the senators who had voted against my nomination," Simmonds said. "I hoped that they would be able to get to know me better, and that they would see that I accomplished much during my short time on the PSC."
However, during the meeting, senators said they were still concerned about a possible conflict of interest and added that they were also worried about Simmonds' alleged bias toward Innovative Communications Corp.
In response to a question from Sen. Louis P. Hill, Simmonds said that his position on Turnbull's staff did not constitute a conflict of any kind. "In fact, during the three years that I've served on the PSC, the governor has never talked to me about, or asked me about, anything relating to matters of the board," Simmonds said.
Hill also asked Simmonds about his personal position on matters relating to ICC, particularly regarding the utility's decision not to release its financial information to the public. Simmonds explained that during his first term on the PSC, the board decided to conduct an investigation of Innovative's finances. "Once the investigation concluded, we had to send the documents to the Federal Communications Commission. However, representatives from Innovative came to us and said they would not release the information if it were disclosed to the public," Simmonds said.
Unsatisfied with Simmonds' answer, Hill instead asked Simmonds why the PSC has not granted the Source's requests to obtain copies of Innovative's financial statements, as the commission is required by law to do. Simmonds responded that he told Source reporters to go to directly to Innovative to acquire the documents since the utility does not want the financials to be disclosed to the public.
When contacted Thursday evening, Source publisher Shaun Pennington said, "I have never requested ICC's financials from ICC, nor would I. By virtue of the V.I. Code's section on public information, the PSC is bound by law to provide those documents to the public. The fact that Simmonds suggested I go to Innovative is ludicrous – he should read the Code."
The Source's request for Innovative's financial statements was tabled two months ago by the commission to be discussed at its January meeting, but did not appear on the docket. However, the request is on the docket for the commission's February meeting.
Senators also questioned Simmonds about the PSC's attempts to hire a forensic accountant to further investigate Innovative's finances. Simmonds said he did not know whether the investigation had been completed and would not comment when asked how he felt about Innovative Telephone's decision to loan $30 million of its proceeds to parent company ICC for the purchase of a telephone company in Belize.
Simmonds said he would not answer the question since he was not present when the decision to approve the loan was made. "Since I was not there then, I should not have to give my position on that decision now," he said.
Before voting on the nomination, some senators continued to speak out against Simmonds and the commission itself.
"I'm totally disgusted by the PSC," Sen. Usie R. Richards said. "You all hear the consumers complaining about telephone service, about increasing WAPA bills, and you didn't do a thing to fix it. I also think that it's disrespectful for the governor to resubmit this nomination after the full [Senate] body rejected it."
Hill added that he believes Simmonds and the PSC are "playing right into the hands of Innovative" by not trying to fix the territory's "substandard telephone service" and refusing to release the utility's financial records.
Hill made the motion to send Simmonds renomination to the full body with an unfavorable recommendation.
Sens. Hill, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, and Ronald E. Russell voted in favor of the motion, while Sen. Roosevelt C. David voted against motion. Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville abstained.
Berry was not present at voting time, and Sen. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion was absent at Thursday's meeting.
In other action, senators voted favorably on four other nominations: Desmond L. Maynard and Raymond James to the Government Employees Retirement System governing board, Francis E. Jackson Jr. to the St. Thomas-St. John Health and Hospitals Board, and Ray Isles to St. Croix's Horse Racing Commission.
Responding to questions from senators, both Maynard and James said that GERS is working with representatives from the governor's financial team to come up with solutions to fund the more than $1 billion debt owed to the system by the government.
When asked, James also said the board does not support increasing contributions from employees currently paying into the system in order to pay off the debt. "I think that the government should absorb the cost here, since it is the government who hasn't paid their contributions," he said.
During questioning, Jackson said the Schneider Regional Medical Complex is working toward becoming a semi-autonomous agency. "I do not think, however, that we will ever completely become financially independent from the government," Jackson added. "The hospital is a nonprofit organization, and we still have to pay for care for those patients who don't have insurance, so we're always going to need government funding."
Jackson also fielded questions regarding the financial stability of the new Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute on St. Thomas. "It's a new business, and like any new business there's going to be at least three years where we'll have a shortfall in our revenues," Jackson said. "But we do expect that the institute will do well, and we plan to market it as a center for everyone in the Caribbean, not just the V.I."
Present at Thursday's meeting were Sens. Berry, David, Figueroa-Serville, Hill, Nelson, Richards and Russell.
Sen. Encarnacion was absent.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.