Of the many freedoms we have, some freedoms in the Virgin Islands are hard to obtain because we have a central government who seem to be removed from the issues. Having localized municipal government is good government. We need to have the freedom to choose our own destiny. Municipal government and other major issues we face today could and must be included in the new Constitution:
Freedom of Information One would think that this basic freedom would be readily available to all. In the Virgin Islands, despite the fact that we have the "Sunshine Law", there are still gross avoidances by the government of the freedom to know what's going on within government. Oftentimes, it is because agencies (government workers) simply do not understand the law or know that citizens have these basic rights. Open meetings, reduction of "executive sessions" the ability to easily see and obtain public documents and other freedoms which are common-place in the USA are relegated to frustration when dealing with the VI government. This has to change if we are to have a more open government. The basic right to know is guaranteed by the laws of the United States and the US Constitution and should be included in the VI Constitution. When municipalities become a reality, no longer will we have to fight a huge central government to get information we need, we can get it locally.
Protecting Our Environment One would think that our greatest concern would be the protection of our islands from destruction by over-development yet we continue to allow un-checked building practices and over-use of our infrastructure. The new constitution could provide language that mandates every constructor or developer to provide an impact statement BEFORE any construction begins. Such a statement would include building practices, impact on the environment and infrastructure and impact on neighbors. Municipalities would have the right to allow or disallow any development because they have been given the legal responsibility to say "enough is enough". Municipalities would also have the right to allow such practices if done according to the desires of the populace or when the revenues through property taxes would benefit the community. The key word is "community" because they would decide, not the central government.
What Kind of Local Power Can We Have? All of it! Remember, we only need the central government to provide us with funds, oversee our borders and protect us; everything else would be up to the community members within the municipality. Police, fire, education, public works, housing, building permits, recreation, property taxation, human services and a host of other programs created by the community or mandated by law would be overseen, funded and regulated within the municipality. The mayor and town council (or town meeting) would be the elected representatives of the people to do this job. All services required to run all these programs would be located within the municipality. The town may opt to hire a town manager with municipal experience to oversee everything with the town council and mayor being the institution that creates the laws. The power to run our lives, in the area where we live is deservedly with the people who live, work and play there. No longer would citizens have to deal with a far-away and possibly uncaring central government monstrosity.
How Can These Changes Come to Be? It will take strong leadership from our Constitutional delegates to do these things. Without drastic changes, we are doomed to continue paying high taxes, have a government that does not have a feel or care about the needs of locals and we will have less and less of a say in our own destinies. The choice is always up to the citizens. If they choose to not take an active part in how our government works, then change will never become a reality. There are many who do not want change or are afraid of it. If the majority of the people feel that change is not a good thing then we will remain as we are. It doesn't take a lot of foresight to see that we are heading into a time when living in the Virgin Islands will be a burden on every Virgin Islander. The tourists will still come but underlying that will be a people that have to eke out a living and pay for the government's inability to take bold measures to make our lives better and share in the prosperity we all deserve.
What Do We Do Now? Talk to your Constitutional delegates. Find out what they perceive as what the new Constitution will look like. You voted them in and you have a right to know what they are intending to do. If you feel strongly about an issue-fight for it! Go to the constitutional meetings and ask that you may speak so your voice can be heard. Faxes, e-mails, phone calls and a strong media can influence the delegates. There isn't much time so you have to start now!
Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to firstname.lastname@example.org.