After months of being battered by talk show callers questioning how money was spent to provide security at his residence, Gov. John deJongh Jr. took to the airwaves Friday to clarify his intentions and to stand up for employees who have taken some of the blows as well.
Via prerecorded tape, DeJongh said when he leaves office all improvements will be returned to the government where possible, and those remaining will be assessed and reimbursed.
His point, he said, was to assure the public that he and his family would not realize any financial gain from the security improvements made to his private residence, and to stop the gossip and deliberate attempts to politicize something that had been carried out in the public eye three years ago when he and first lady Cecile deJongh decided to live at their own home.
He said millions of dollars would have been needed to make Catharineberg habitable – at the people’s expense – and he and Cecile also wished to maintain normalcy for their three children by staying put.
He reminded listeners that the construction of the security shack, fencing and driveway were a matter of public record and public scrutiny when they were built. The bids were published and there were stories in local papers because deJongh had also requested and received legal advice from the attorney general before giving the go-ahead for the construction.
The topic of the expenditures was resurrected a few months ago when Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, who ran against deJongh in the 2006 gubernatorial race, said on the Senate floor that the deJonghs had spent millions of dollars to renovate their private residence.
That turned out to be untrue.
When Donastorg released the much touted documents – alleged proof of his allegations – they turned out to be nothing more than the $495,000 in invoices for the security upgrades.
DeJongh said Friday, however, that he was sorry that he hadn’t taken more personal oversight at the time the expensive security measures were taken. He said the cost was dear.
While acknowledging the excessive price, he lambasted the public attacks in the Senate and elsewhere of government employees, who are not politicians, he said.
"The employees who worked on this project and defended the decision and their actions at a recent legislative hearing on this matter have been subjected to personal abuse without justification," deJongh said.
In his desire to put the controversy to bed and refocus attention on the many real challenges facing the territory, deJongh said he would ask Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls to provide the attorney general with a list of what had been done and what it cost. DeJongh will then ask Attorney General Vincent Frazer to draw up an agreement that will legally require deJongh, within 180 days of the end of his term in office, to repay the V.I. government for all improvements that cannot be given back.
He said this agreement should "put to rest any concern that any reasonable person could have that somehow my family will be gaining anything of value from the security improvements done to our property."
He finished by saying, "There is more than enough real work for all public officials to do. We must get on with it and try for as long as possible to leave the distractions of partisan politics to the side."
Government House Communications Director Jean Greaux Jr. said the tape had been delivered to all the radio stations in the territory. He confirmed it had been played on WSTX, WSTA and WRRA.