Tuesday, November 21, 2017 3:17 pm Last modified: 1:10 pm

V.I. Crisis: No Matter Where You Start, Answer Must Come from Inside

Frank Schneiger

Frank Schneiger

The outsider giving “advice.” Now there is a tricky role, especially when there is a long history of outside experts telling you (Virgin Islanders) what you ˆ do. (Note: the word “you” at the beginning of a sentence is almost always a bad sign.)

Then there is the reality that the greater the distance from any problem, the simpler the problem seems, and, therefore, the easier to tell you what you should do. And, if you throw in the historic pattern of white people advising black people on what they should do, you have a nice toxic mix.

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So, in an effort to avoid the kiss of death, let’s start from a different place. First, over what are now many years, I have been increasingly struck by how complex the territory’s problems are. This complexity is a result of the outsized role that government, and government employment, plays in driving the economy; of differences among the three main islands; and, finally, of the colonial relationship with the United States, a relationship which, by any reasonable measure, has been a mixed blessing.

There is, however, a way in which outsiders can play a useful role. They can point out things that seem different, out of the ordinary. These are things that local people are so accustomed to that they seem normal. There is nothing better than Tolstoy’s quote in “Anna Karenina” in capturing this reality: “There are no conditions to which a person cannot become accustomed, especially if they see everyone around them living in the same way.”

Virgin Islanders have become quite used to a government that consistently fails them. Low expectations are the norm. So, if there is a platform on which to begin to build a better future, it is broad-based rejection of the low standards to which the territory’s citizens have become accustomed.

But, that is only a starting point. In the film “Network,” Howard Beale shouted, “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.” But, contrary to popular opinion, anger is not a strategy. As politicians and others everywhere demonstrate on a daily basis, outrage is light work.

In an age when “leadership,” “innovation” and “disruption” are all glorified, the keys to a renaissance in the Virgin Islands lay in two far more mundane terms: management and execution. These are the territory’s Achilles heels, the source of low standards, much misery and pessimism.

Two examples. More than three years ago, all of the territory’s key stakeholders came together to produce a plan to dramatically reduce extreme levels of violence. The outcome was an agreed upon strategy and a set of action plans that everyone committed to. What happened? Not much. The problem wasn’t the plan. It was a failure of execution, a failure with terrible consequences.

Another case study, this one, even more visible. In New York City, after prep work that lasts about a week, two full city blocks are paved in a single night. You go to bed with bumps in the road and wake up with a new street. In contrast, restoring a stretch of Main Street in St. Thomas has taken on the aura of the space program.

Fixing and beautifying streets is not rocket science. Why does this kind of thing happen? It’s all about management and execution.

A reader asked the question, where do you start? I believe that the starting point is to focus on the problems of governance, and for a group of citizens to openly reject the low standards and expectations that everyone has become accustomed to. Based on experience, this won’t be simple. “How we do things here” is a powerful force, wherever “here” is.

Then, there is the other conundrum: money. Many people believe that the territory’s government is “bloated.” In most cases, that is not true, especially in the critical areas of public safety, health and education, where, in critical functions, these agencies are all understaffed.

At the same time, those who say that “throwing money at them” is like sending it “down a rat hole” aren’t wrong either. Money can only be well spent if there is effective management and the ability to execute plans and improvements. Those are in painfully short supply in the Virgin Islands. So, money is a problem, but it cannot be uncoupled from the need for management.

Finally, there has been a dramatic change that makes the territory’s situation much more threatening. That change is the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration. There will be no lifeline coming from these people. Instead, as the situation deteriorates, they will see weakness and an opportunity for quick gain at the expense of the vulnerable. They are the kind of people who, when they see someone down, hold out a hand, and then give the person a swift kick.

If there are going to be answers to the territory’s critical problems, they are going to have to come from the inside.

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  1. Susan Hunter Reply

    Having lived on StT a very long time, i cannot explain how offensive it is to have someone tell me they arent pleased with something here and how they do things in Oklahoma or New Jetsey. Trust me, those places aren’t looking to us, or anyone else, for hints on how to improve.

    Sumple logic, common sense, not being greedy and a “can do” attitude is where it starts.

    Of course our government is bloated – compare our senator numbers and wages. Sure we need to rework scheduling, over-time pay, public vehicles being used privately, and all the truly basic, obvious ways to cut expenses. It is what caring, thinking individuals do when their spending exceeds their income and a givernment can do the same thing.

    But, it is a mind-set problem, not a real problem. As one example, until a police officer realizes that being grossly overweight, riding up and down Raphune Hill in an air-conditioned cruiser, is a criminal act against tax payers … because they can’t hear, see or smell any emergency need or problem and can barely get out of the vehicle, much take action…we will continue to live under short-term thinking, selfish, wasteful conditions.

    We always act like we first need to invent the wheel before we can roll out changes. Take the VI Constitution, for example…there are plenty already, from which we can pick, choose and adapt from. So, it could be done in an afternoon, actually.

    All our problems are minimal, compared to most places. Why? Because we are fewer than 100,000 people, 32 square miles on StT and isolated and insulated from mass criminal influences from the outside. We are not a large enough demographic for organized crime to be concerned with, nor are we strategically vital for any criminal trade. Controlling our criminal element should be simple – really.

    Building private industry is so possible but needs to be that which is actual productive work. Lottery tickets, slot machines and horse racing are not industry. They will not increase social improvement or community pride. Real products, bssed on some sort of recycling or native grown item is our salvation along with addressing current tourism needs and tactics.

    Consider that aloe, papyrus and certain herbs, roots and spices grow hete without cultivational assistance. Imagine if we had an aloe processing plant and anyone could bring in leaves and we produced a worldwide used product. There is no shortage of things we could make or do. Now, compare even the aloe production concept to all industrial products that we currently offer. 1 to 0.

    Our young thinkers, doers and those who care leave the island as soon as possible. We are left with those who are looking for easy, to not have to work too hard to get by and don’t care if there is garbage piling up, drugs being used on the corner, and certainly not if there’s a National Guard sex scandal…as long as the cop car doesnt come around, and if it does, the windows stay up and it drives on by.

    We either care and DO something, pretend we care and point fingers or drive around with our mental windows closed. It is all really simple to fix.

  2. Well THAT happened Reply

    I wholeheartedly agree that it is a “mindset problem.” But I disagree that changing or fixing mindsets is easy or simple. For example, I offer just a few of the opinions I have read on local forums: one person stated, “I have family working in IRB, you would think they would help their own” (referring to long overdue tax refunds), another person believes “government need to fix up the place (provide jobs)” (referring to the sorry state of buildings and land-govt owned and privately owned), and another person said, “politicians better hope the thugs don’t start seeing them as the enemy and turn their high-powered weapons on them” (referring to reminder that real estate taxes are due). While it’s easy to whine and complain anonymously online, most would NEVER stick their necks out to publicly protest the wrongs that they see and endure. Too much to lose. And that is one of the biggest problems or mindsets. We expect to receive special treatment (cronyism, tribalism, or nepotism), or we expect the government to take care of us and provide jobs for us, or we are fearful of the criminal element and the threat they hold over us, If we look in the mirror and do an honest evaluation of ourselves and our mindset, would we allow the possibility that maybe WE are a big part of the problems that plague our society? Highly unlikely. And this is why NOTHING will change with only internal input. As long as the current and longstanding mindset as outlined above is prevalent, the ONLY way change will be effected in USVI is by external forces.

  3. Someone who cares Reply

    I agree it is a mindset , the peoeple of the Virgin Islands have accepted whatever is thrown at them because of affiliations , greed, ignorance not wanting to get involve but stay on the sidelines and criticize each other. The time has come for the people to come together and start having meaningful dialogues. Everything is passing them by,the tourism industry is diminishing money is going elsewhere.At what point the people of the Virgin Islands are going to say enough and mean it .They have a chance, election is just around the corner. STOP VOTING FOR THE SAME PEOPLE WHO DO NOTHING.THE SITUATION IS BEYOND SERIOUS WASHINGTON IS NOT LISTENING.WHAT ARE THE PEOPLE OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS GOING TO DO FOR PRESERVATION FOR THEIR CHILDREN AND GRNERATIONS TO COME.YOU HAVE ANOTHER CHANCE GET UP FROM YOUR COMPLACENCY AND LET YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS KNOW THAT THE TIME FOR NONSENS E AND INEFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP IS OVER.VOTE STUPIDITY EXCESSIVE GREED OUT. WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!

  4. So Your Saying Race Is the Problem Reply

    What a sloppy editorial, both in content and vision. Pitchfork to the Source for printing it. Refund to the person who paid for it.

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