After the V.I. Legislature’s Rules and Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to send nominees to the V.I. Parole Board and governing boards of the Water and Power Authority, Port Authority and University of the Virgin Islands, one nominee said he nearly declined the offer out of concern over Senate confirmation.
Before the committee unanimously voted to send all four nominees on for a final vote before the full Legislature, it took testimony from and questioned three new nominees: Curtis Williams for the V.I. Parole Board; Elizabeth Armstrong to the WAPA board; Gwendolyn Adams Norton for the UVI board; and also one veteran board member, Yvonne Thraen, being re-nominated to another term on the Port Authority governing board.
"This is my first time being asked to serve on any government board and I thought about it seriously," said Williams after the vote. Williams said he "hesitated to come before the Senate for questioning," because he had seen nominees aggressively grilled and put on the spot while in front of television cameras. Williams said he chose to accept the nomination nonetheless because he felt he could be useful and valuable on the board.
A life-long St. Croix resident, Williams graduated from St. Patrick’s High School in 1959 and, that same year, started working at the Merwin Hardware Store, where he prepared payroll. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of the Virgin Islands in 1977 when it was still called the College of the Virgin Islands.
Williams has worked for the V.I. government for 36 years, with the last 14 in a supervisory position with the V.I. Police Department, where he served as an administrative hearing officer.
Williams worked in several government departments over the years, beginning with the Department of Health, followed by the Municipal Court of the Virgin Islands, the V.I. Department of Labor and finally the VIPD, where he worked from 1980 until his retirement in 1994. Williams also taught adult students at UVI from 1979-1987.
Norton, nominated to the UVI board, is from the territory but lives in Manhattan, which raised a few senators’ eyebrows. But Norton assuaged those concerns, saying she has deep roots and ties to the territory.
"How do you keep in touch with the Virgin Islands?" asked Sen. Craig Barshinger.
"I still have family here, so it is still a part of my heart," Norton said. "I have friends here. I read the paper every day. … I live in New York, but my heart is still here," she said.
A V.I. native, Norton received a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., in 1979, and she was an Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow at Harvard University in 2010.
Norton was senior vice president of Wachovia Bank, with responsibility in the area of community development finance in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut from 1999-2004. Before that, she worked at Banco Popular from 1997-1999. And she served as V.I. Finance Commissioner from 1995-1997.
Norton is a trustee to Spelman College in Atlanta and a trustee with the Visiting Nursing Service of New York, a $1 billion nonprofit organization.
Armstrong, owner and manager of The Buccaneer hotel and resort, received strong support from Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen for her nomination to the WAPA board and Armstrong gave Hansen some kind words as well.
"You were always a supporter, and I’d like to thank you especially for giving us a shot in the arm when we were down," Armstrong said to Hansen.
Hansen replied, "I saw how you fought for St. Croix," adding that she felt Armstrong was a "fighter," who had worked hard for many years to help the big island.
Armstrong said The Buccaneer had been “off the grid” for 40 years, generating its own power, and that her experience managing their own 800-plus kilowatts of generating capacity may help her understand some of the issues facing WAPA.
"While expertise in power generation has not been a requirement for a service on the WAPA board, I think my experience in this area will be beneficial," she said.
Armstrong said she has deep roots in the community. "As the ninth generation of the Armstrong family to live on St. Croix, I have a proven commitment to the island and, as one of St. Croix’s largest employers, I have a vested interest in improving the community," she added, noting that her employees were struggling to pay their WAPA bills.
Armstrong grew up on St. Croix, attending Good Hope School from kindergarten until graduation. She received a bachelor’s degree from the Gallatin School of New York University in 1989.
Armstrong has been in management at The Buccaneer since 1989. She was president of the St. Croix Hotel and Tourism Association from 1995-1998, and she has been involved in several nonprofit organizations.
Thraen was born on St. Thomas, graduating from Sts. Peter and Paul High School and earning a bachelor’s degree from Catholic University of Puerto Rico in 1968, a Master’s of Social Work degree from Howard University in 1973, and a doctorate in social welfare from Brandeis University in 1977.
Thraen has served as an intern in Congress and has worked in several V.I. government positions. She began as a case worker in the department that later became Human Services, and she taught at the then-called College of the Virgin Islands.
In 1987 Gov. Alexander Farrelly appointed Thraen to be an assistant to the governor through 1995, and Gov. Roy L. Schneider appointed her to the same position serving from 1995 to 1997.
From 2002 to 2007, Thraen was a liaison between the territory and several federal agencies for selected federally funded projects.
She is retired from government and a member of several boards, committees and nonprofit organizations, including the UVI Board of Trustees. Thraen has served on the VIPA governing board since 2006.
Voting in favor of all four nominees were Sens. Diane Capehart, Shawn-Michael Malone, Janette Millin Young, Myron Jackson, Kenneth Gittens, Donald Cole and Sammuel Sanes. Noncommittee members present included Hansen, Barshinger and Sen. Tregenza Roach.
The committee had been scheduled to hear testimony on a bill to require a written response from the president of the Legislature or from its division heads when a request is made in writing. Sanes, the committee chairman, moved to have the bill removed from the agenda, saying that it would be folded into an omnibus bill addressing several internal legislative procedures.
The purpose of the measure, Sanes said, is to increase transparency and make it easier for senators and the public to see what is happening in the legislature. The committee voted unanimously to remove the bill from the agenda.