The Legislature on Thursday voted unanimously to override Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s veto of a bill that would allow the government to hire a curator to oversee all fine art and antiquities in the territory’s Government Houses.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Myron Jackson, aims to create a system of accountability for such art, from acquisition to preservation to disposal. According to Jackson, after consulting with the curator of the Obama White House, it became clear to him that the territory’s system of caring for historical artifacts is antiquated. After two category five hurricanes, he called the mismanagement and lack of care for the artifacts a “third natural disaster.”
Concern over the condition of artifacts in the territory’s Government Houses peaked shortly after Hurricanes Irma and Maria when a reporter photographed unattended artifacts, including china and mahogany furniture, inside an unlocked Government House on St. Thomas. Disputing the reporter, who was detained then released without charge, Government House insisted that the artifacts were secure without allowing media access nor offering evidence for the claim.
Mapp vetoed Jackson’s legislation, stating he had already taken the historic preservation steps described in the bill. He also announced his own appointment of Chief Conservator Julio Encarnacion III, who is tasked with cataloging and managing the territory’s collection of antiques and paintings. Encarnacion, according to Government House, began his duties on April 16.
Mapp stated that having a curator report to an eight-person committee as mandated in Jackson’s bill would cause “confusion and administrative delays.” Jackson, however, insisted that many state governments already follow his proposed policy on managing government-owned artifacts, and that the governor’s veto only makes it clear that a reform is in order.
After the senate override, it is unclear whether Encarnacion will eventually have to relinquish his position or merely go through the hiring process stipulated by Jackson’s bill.
Senators also overrode the governor’s veto of a bill that, according to its sponsor Sen. Kurt Vialet, aims to strengthen the Economic Development Commission, removing the governor’s involvement in some key processes within the EDC.
Among the bill’s key provisions is granting the EDC authority to approve or deny applications for benefits without the need for the governor’s approval. For beneficiaries who remain in compliance with the conditions of their EDC certificates, the commission can now extend the duration of their eligibility, also without requiring the governor’s approval.
Vialet’s bill also removes the governor’s power to hire the EDC’s assistant chief executive officer. That authority now falls under the chief executive officer, who is also no longer under the governor’s authority to hire or terminate.
The EDC bill also gives more relief to applicants and beneficiaries. Non-resident partners of EDC beneficiaries can keep their financial and tax information private unless they plan to relocate within two years of the EDC certificate’s approval, or unless they own more than a 50 percent share of the EDC company.
All the senators voted for the override, except for Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen who abstained.
The senate also overrode the governor’s veto of a bill authorizing the government to purchase Estate Catherineberg from the West Indian Company. Catherineberg will be used as a decorative art museum, with the bill requiring WICO to shoulder all costs of the repairs and transition. The bill also requires WICO to use $250,000 out of the annual payment in lieu of taxes to maintain and support the museum.
Only Sens. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly and Janelle Sarauw opposed the override.