Hundreds of civil rights complaints sit unaddressed because the V.I. Civil Rights Commission has been regularly unable to achieve a quorum for six years due to two members not attending meetings, a staffer told the V.I. Legislature during budget hearings Tuesday.
The commission is responsible for investigating ethnic, religious and other discrimination complaints; hate crimes; and sexual harassment claims. It operates out of the Department of Justice for budget purposes only.
"The commission has been unable to effectively complete or close out any of the 437 complaints filed within the territory because of a lack of a responsive quorum," testified Rudisha Rabsatt, case worker investigator for the V.I. Civil Rights Commission.
The commission has four members, but two have not been attending meetings "for over six years," she said. Rabsatt testified in support of the division’s budget allotment on behalf of Executive Director Lunsford Williams, who was off island.
"If the governor can appoint three individuals, particularly two from the island of St. Croix and one from the island of St. Thomas for consideration to serve on the commission, it would certainly help," said Rabsatt.
The governor’s budget proposes $363,000 for the commission, accounting for roughly 3 percent of the Justice Department budget. Of that sum, $236,000 or 65 percent is for personnel salaries and another $90,000 or 25 percent, covers benefits, meaning 90 percent of the budget ultimately goes to personnel-related costs.
Commission members themselves only receive a nominal $30 per diem when they meet, and the personnel costs are incurred to pay four case workers, an executive director and an assistant executive director.
No votes were taken at the information gathering hearing. Present were Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly, Sammuel Sanes and Janet Millin-Young.