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Radio Host Challenges Senator Over FCC License During Town Meeting

Sept. 23, 2007 — Sen. Neville James and radio host Roger W. Morgan got into a contentious exchange during a town meeting at Island Center Sunday evening over the efforts of four senators to get Morgan’s broadcast license yanked.
James and Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson were speaking and answering questions from radio media and private citizens for two and a half hours Sunday, addressing topics from compensation for Estate St. George residents with faulty construction to how to reduce the complexity and lack of transparency in government finances. Nelson organized the town meeting, the third on St. Croix since January.
The exchange with Morgan came very early, as the meeting's format called for radio media to ask questions first. Morgan was first in line.
“You are part of a group of five senators appealing the transfer of my license,” Morgan said, asking what law he had broken.
“We are accusing you of taking advantage of the public airways for your own personal benefit,” James replied. “You are abusing your licensing agreement with the current owner and that will come to a head soon. Make no mistake, you enjoy being a talk show host, setting your own agenda, and that is your right. But the fact is we sat here while you were encouraging people to remove four of us over a 60-day period, and after that process I don’t know why you thought we were going to just sit back.” (See "Group of Senators Petition FCC to Deny Station License for 'Free Speech' Host.")
The topic then turned to housing. Several home owners from Estate St. George were in the audience, asking when they might expect payments appropriated by the Legislature to fix substandard construction on the houses they purchased through the V.I. Housing Finance Authority. Modular homes there were constructed on improperly compacted fill, causing severe foundation and wall cracks. The company contracted by the Housing Finance Authority went bankrupt shortly after the problems emerged, leaving the V.I. government holding the bag. The Legislature’s role is to appropriate funds, James said, and after doing so had little power over the process.
“We signed the payment into law Sept. 27 of 2006,” James said. “We passed an amendment to make the funds available until expended, so it won’t expire. All you need now is for you, the parties, to come to an agreement.”
Nelson said another concern was whether some of the houses simply could not be stabilized and repaired because of the unstable ground.
St. Croix resident John Tranberg asked the two senator’s views on moving the road north of Frederiksted to accommodate development of a resort at Williams and Punch. Nelson said he was not convinced.
“I’m not supportive of moving the road at this point,” he said. “I would have to see the plan. I believe most senators are poised to see how much we can open the door for them. But we have to be concerned about permanent changes to our environment. … Until I see a plan, I can’t tell you I say yes.”
James said he favored moving the road.
“We have to make some sacrifices if we are really serious about economic development,” he said. “I’m not saying change the whole island for development, but some change.”
The next big development should be on the west end, and increasing hotel rooms is a key to prosperity on St. Croix, James said.
“With more hotel rooms we can get more airlift, more flights,” he said. “That means more jobs, which means less crime.”
Economic opportunity coupled with education are the keys to increasing prosperity, lowering crime and increasing the overall quality of life, James said.
St. Croix resident Danny Coughlin asked about the government’s financial controls and how a government employee was able to embezzle more than $1 million before getting caught. Alric Simmonds is accused of that crime. (See "Accused Embezzler Faces New Conspiracy Charges.")
“The commissioner of finance said she’s found 73 bank accounts and counting,” Coughlin said. “That just reeks of possible corruption. When will we find out how many accounts there are? It seems like (Simmonds) opened a personal bank account with public money. Where is the oversight?”
Nelson agreed the difficulty in tracking funds led to possible corruption.
“Accounting is about tracking the money, and that is where we are lacking right now,” he said. “If Kmart can track every dollar instantly, we should be able to. Kmart headquarters on the mainland can tell you what Kmart here makes every single day. I believe the accounts are left this way intentionally to hide what happens.”
Controls are not tight enough, James agreed, but he also lay some blame at the feet of local banks.
“No public employee was allowed access to cash without proper authorization,” he said. “And it was a practice at banks to go ahead and move cash anyway.”
James said he wants to see tighter controls as well.
“It is just madness to me that $1.2 million could be signed off in checks when the $1.2 million was never appropriated,” he said. “I think the current number of accounts is not 86. I think it is more than 90. I don’t know why, and I think the government needs to come forward to explain.”
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Sept. 23, 2007 -- Sen. Neville James and radio host Roger W. Morgan got into a contentious exchange during a town meeting at Island Center Sunday evening over the efforts of four senators to get Morgan’s broadcast license yanked.
James and Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson were speaking and answering questions from radio media and private citizens for two and a half hours Sunday, addressing topics from compensation for Estate St. George residents with faulty construction to how to reduce the complexity and lack of transparency in government finances. Nelson organized the town meeting, the third on St. Croix since January.
The exchange with Morgan came very early, as the meeting's format called for radio media to ask questions first. Morgan was first in line.
“You are part of a group of five senators appealing the transfer of my license,” Morgan said, asking what law he had broken.
“We are accusing you of taking advantage of the public airways for your own personal benefit,” James replied. “You are abusing your licensing agreement with the current owner and that will come to a head soon. Make no mistake, you enjoy being a talk show host, setting your own agenda, and that is your right. But the fact is we sat here while you were encouraging people to remove four of us over a 60-day period, and after that process I don’t know why you thought we were going to just sit back.” (See "Group of Senators Petition FCC to Deny Station License for 'Free Speech' Host.")
The topic then turned to housing. Several home owners from Estate St. George were in the audience, asking when they might expect payments appropriated by the Legislature to fix substandard construction on the houses they purchased through the V.I. Housing Finance Authority. Modular homes there were constructed on improperly compacted fill, causing severe foundation and wall cracks. The company contracted by the Housing Finance Authority went bankrupt shortly after the problems emerged, leaving the V.I. government holding the bag. The Legislature’s role is to appropriate funds, James said, and after doing so had little power over the process.
“We signed the payment into law Sept. 27 of 2006,” James said. “We passed an amendment to make the funds available until expended, so it won’t expire. All you need now is for you, the parties, to come to an agreement.”
Nelson said another concern was whether some of the houses simply could not be stabilized and repaired because of the unstable ground.
St. Croix resident John Tranberg asked the two senator’s views on moving the road north of Frederiksted to accommodate development of a resort at Williams and Punch. Nelson said he was not convinced.
“I’m not supportive of moving the road at this point,” he said. “I would have to see the plan. I believe most senators are poised to see how much we can open the door for them. But we have to be concerned about permanent changes to our environment. ... Until I see a plan, I can’t tell you I say yes.”
James said he favored moving the road.
“We have to make some sacrifices if we are really serious about economic development,” he said. “I’m not saying change the whole island for development, but some change.”
The next big development should be on the west end, and increasing hotel rooms is a key to prosperity on St. Croix, James said.
“With more hotel rooms we can get more airlift, more flights,” he said. “That means more jobs, which means less crime.”
Economic opportunity coupled with education are the keys to increasing prosperity, lowering crime and increasing the overall quality of life, James said.
St. Croix resident Danny Coughlin asked about the government’s financial controls and how a government employee was able to embezzle more than $1 million before getting caught. Alric Simmonds is accused of that crime. (See "Accused Embezzler Faces New Conspiracy Charges.")
“The commissioner of finance said she’s found 73 bank accounts and counting,” Coughlin said. “That just reeks of possible corruption. When will we find out how many accounts there are? It seems like (Simmonds) opened a personal bank account with public money. Where is the oversight?”
Nelson agreed the difficulty in tracking funds led to possible corruption.
“Accounting is about tracking the money, and that is where we are lacking right now,” he said. “If Kmart can track every dollar instantly, we should be able to. Kmart headquarters on the mainland can tell you what Kmart here makes every single day. I believe the accounts are left this way intentionally to hide what happens.”
Controls are not tight enough, James agreed, but he also lay some blame at the feet of local banks.
“No public employee was allowed access to cash without proper authorization,” he said. “And it was a practice at banks to go ahead and move cash anyway.”
James said he wants to see tighter controls as well.
“It is just madness to me that $1.2 million could be signed off in checks when the $1.2 million was never appropriated,” he said. “I think the current number of accounts is not 86. I think it is more than 90. I don’t know why, and I think the government needs to come forward to explain.”
Back Talk 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.