March 7, 2006 – While acting Public Works Commissioner George Phillips impressed senators with his plans for improving the department and repairing the territory's roads, his nomination for Commissioner of Public Works remains in limbo until various personal records are submitted to the Legislature.
While all senators pledged their support for Phillips during a Rules and Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday, they said he failed to provide the committee with his financial and business records and did not sign a form authorizing the Legislature to access any of the required personal information.
Sen. Ronald E. Russell, chair of the committee, told Phillips that all nominees are required to sign the form and must submit documents from the Internal Revenue Bureau, Finance Department, Licensing and Consumer Affairs, Police Department, the Economic Development Authority, and the Board of Education to prove that they have no outstanding debts or criminal allegations.
Although Phillips managed to get most of the documentation to the committee during a lunch recess, senators said his nomination would not be voted on by the full body until the rest of the information is made available.
During the meeting, Phillips said DPW has made significant progress in repairing many of the territory's roads and that he would continue his efforts to restructure the department. He also said Public Works is currently trying to address drainage problems in various St. Croix housing communities, such as William's Delight.
Phillips further stated that he is planning to ask for money to develop a "gut-cleaning crew" which would be responsible for gut upkeep and maintenance.
Phillips also told senators that he is committed to restoring downtown Charlotte Amalie and said that the department is moving forward with an "environmentally safe and aesthetically pleasing" revitalization of Frederiksted.
"We plan on basing the revitalization of Charlotte Amalie on what we're doing in Frederiksted," Phillips said. "First we're going to redo the roads – street by street – then we're going to concentrate on restoring the sanctity of St. Thomas's historic district."
The department will also be developing a comprehensive road repair plan, in which each island would be divided into zones to which contractors would be assigned, Phillips added. "Right now we're paying thousands of dollars per contractor, per week to fix the roads," he said. "If a specific contractor is assigned to a specific zone, it would reduce expenses and cut down on the amount of crews out there working."
To help with expediting road projects, Phillips said he is reactivating the Public Works Acceleration Board, an independent entity that can also conduct its own procurement process to find companies for capital improvement projects. The board would further manage federal money given to Public Works for various road projects, Phillips said. "We receive a tremendous amount of federal money on a regular basis, and we all know what happens when those funds are not expended in a timely manner," he said in response to a question from Sen. Lorraine L. Berry. "The federal government is looking for any reason to withhold federal funds, and the department is trying to expedite our projects as quickly as possible so that not a penny will have to go back to Washington."
Phillips' explanation further allowed senators to approve the nomination of Randolph Latimer to the Acceleration Board. The nomination was held in the last Rules Committee meeting because senators said they needed to know why the board, which has been dormant for more than 10 years, is being reactivated.
A lack of documentation also kept the nomination of Diane Mawson-Walker to the V.I. Historic Preservation Commission from moving through the committee. While her nomination was held for further consideration, senators said they were in full support of her nomination.
Mawson-Walker, a St. John resident, said she plans to work on defining the island's historical sites and developing rules and regulations for building maintenance and restoration projects. "I think what's happening to Cruz Bay is sad, and guidelines need to be set up to keep people from destroying some of our historical landmarks. We need to stop and think about our local people – those who are having a hard time paying their taxes because people are coming into the territory and building expensive developments, which are raising the tax structure for the families who have spent all their lives here," she said.
Mawson-Walker said she also plans to collaborate with government entities like the Tourism Department to promote the Virgin Islands to visitors. "I think that if we do things like promote island events on cruise ships, then tourists coming to any of the islands would know what to do instead of just wandering around and going back to the ship," she said.
Senators also voted to approve the nominations of Leo Francis to the Historic Preservation Commission and Eugene Petersen to the Public Service Television System Board.
The nominations of Ralph R. Smith, James Crites, Carmen Wesselhoft, Earl DeWindt, and Michael DeChabert to various government boards and commissions were further held in committee because the individuals did not appear at Tuesday's meeting.
Present at Tuesday's meeting were Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Berry, Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Usie R. Richards, Ronald E. Russell, and Celestino A. White Sr.
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