Unable to find a willing stenographer after one walked out Tuesday complaining that shouting and cross-talk were making her job impossible, the V.I. Joint Boards of Election canceled plans to reconvene Friday and postponed all meetings until a solution is found, Chairman Rupert Ross confirmed Friday.
After paying to fly eight St. Thomas board members and staff to St. Croix for the V.I. Joint Board of Elections regular meeting on Tuesday, shouting by board member Adelbert Bryan and a general lack of decorum forced the stenographer to leave, which ended the meeting.
Board members attempted to find another stenographer, which the law requires, Ross said. But none were available.
The ruckus that drove the stenographer away began during open session and worsened during an executive session called to address personnel matters — specifically, the progress of interviews for the position of supervisor of elections, currently held by John Abramson, whose term expired but has been extended six months to accommodate the candidate search.
Before the vote to go into executive session, Bryan repeatedly interrupted other speakers, causing the stenographer to say several times that she could not transcribe more than one speaker at a time and to ask for cooperation. Bryan also objected to certifying the minutes of the prior Joint Boards meeting in February, saying the transcript of the meeting was inaccurate because it did not transcribe, verbatim, the stenographer’s own requests for cooperation.
During the executive session, Bryan could sporadically be heard shouting obscenities in the conference room from the office lobby on the other side of two closed doors and a hallway. Other angry voices could be heard, but indistinctly.
"We went into executive session, that deteriorated and the stenographer decided she could no longer perform her duties and she left," Ross said Tuesday. "Normally, they can only record one person at a time, and when I was unable to get one person to talk at a time, I called a recess."
After numerous phone calls attempting to find a stenographer, they found one willing and available Friday morning, so he planned to reconvene then, Ross said. But it turned out that the one willing stenographer was the same one whose work Bryan had questioned, Ross said.
"When that was made known to her, she decided she was not going to come anymore," Ross said. "So we called the others and they all reported back to me they would not do it either. We called the courts and they said they can’t."
Ross has asked staff to look into the option of videotaping the meetings and having them transcribed afterwards, but until the question is settled, they cannot meet, he said.
Reached Friday afternoon, Boschulte disputed whether there were really no stenographers, whether Bryan was to blame and whether it was appropriate for a stenographer to leave. Boschulte said he felt Bryan was being unfairly singled out, when other members were as much to blame.
"This isn’t the first stenographer we had a problem with — and even before Bert," Boschulte said. "It is really up to the chair to say, ‘hey, let’s maintain decorum.""
Asked about Bryan’s shouting and use of obscenities, Boschulte said others cursed too.
"While Mr. Bryan was the first one to use the ‘f’ word, in the sense of showing the board no one responded to his letter, he was giving an example," Boschulte said. Bryan used the word while talking about someone else’s use of profanity on a different occasion, Boschulte said.
"Did they double check with the V.I. Legislature?" Boschulte asked, saying that he called and was told they were not contacted.
When asked Friday whether the V.I. Legislature had stenographers it could loan to the Joint Boards of Election, officials in the St. Croix offices of the V.I. Legislature referred the question to Chief Reporter Verna Carty on St. Thomas. Several calls and messages to Carty’s office over the afternoon were not returned as of 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Asked about the possibility of other stenographers being available, Ross said, "It would be wonderful if Mr. Boschulte wants to be of service to his colleagues by contacting the board with the names of stenographers we can use. But until we get a stenographer or there is a decision to videotape so it can be transcribed, the meeting is on hold."
Meanwhile, important business, from election reform to selecting the supervisor of elections, are on hold, "which is unfortunate," Ross said.