While Gov. Kenneth Mapp on Friday extended the territory’s state of emergency for an 11th month, the Legislature passed a bill to limit his power to keep extending the emergency without any accounting.
Like every state and territory, V.I. law gives the governor power to mobilize the National Guard and bypass time-consuming normal processes to organize a quick response to the immediate needs after a disaster. Mapp initially declared a state of emergency just before the first of two hurricanes hit the territory last September.
The governor has wide latitude so long as the state of emergency continues. He may, for example, “(s)uspend the provisions of any statute prescribing the procedures for conduct of territorial business, or the orders, rules, or regulations of any territorial agency,” “(u)tilize all available resources of the Territory” and “(t)ake any other action he deems necessary.”
His repeated extensions with extremely minimal explanation have raised questions both inside and outside the territory.
If the bill, sponsored by Sen. Tregenza Roach (D-STT) is enacted into law, the governor would be able to renew an existing state of emergency for 30 days without question. But then, the Legislature would have a say. The governor would have to appear before the Senate five days before the end of the current state of emergency and justify any further extension. If the Senate does not act within five days the state of emergency can continue.
Roach, who is running mate for Albert Bryan, Mapp’s Democratic Party opponent for governor in November’s election, said the change would not take away the governor’s power to declare a state of emergency.
“It just puts the Legislature into the process in the way it ought to be,” Roach said, adding that the state of emergency “gives the governor the authority to suspend any statute, including the statutes governing the expenditure of public funds.”
It is not clear the governor’s ongoing extensions meet existing law. The law says “(a)ll proclamations issued under this subsection shall indicate the nature of the emergency or major disaster, the area or areas threatened the conditions which have brought it about or which make possible termination of the state of emergency.”
None of the extension proclamations, including this 11th proclamation (11th State of Emergency Extension Proclamation) appear to meet that statutory requirement. Instead, they give a rote statement that there were hurricanes in September 2017, with no mention of specific conditions and no mention of what would “make possible termination of the state of emergency.”
Mapp has not been transparent about what he is doing under the auspices of a state of Emergency. Government House has not responded to multiple requests from the Source for clarification of the reasons for the continued extensions sent first in April and reiterated multiple times through mid-July.
On April 10, the V.I. Source presented a V .I. Open Records act request for a list of all contracts entered into under the looser procurement terms of the state of emergency. Government House, Mapp and Property and Procurement Commissioner Lloyd Bough responded with silence.
On July 13, Attorney General Claude Walker responded.
“Concerning your request for all contracts entered outside of the statutorily mandated procurement process, due to the ongoing state of emergency, I have confirmed with the Department of Property and Procurement that no such contracts have been entered into by the government of the Virgin Islands. All such contracts were entered into consistent with the local procurement laws.” Walker said in part.
Mapp contradicted Walker during his July 30 press conference, saying the state of emergency “allows a truncated procurement process so that when we did the modular systems for the various schools, had we had to do that under a regular procurement it would have added two to three more months in the schedule but under the state of emergency it truncates those schedules.”
V.I. statutes do not automatically mandate extensive time periods for a bidding process. And the law allows faster processes for emergency or “exigency” situations, so it is unclear what part of the process was truncated for the modular buildings contract.
V.I. law requires that “bids shall be opened in public at the time and place stated in the newspaper notices,” that a “tabulation of all bids received shall be filed for public inspection” and “(e)ach bid, with the name of the bidder, shall be entered on a record, and each record with the successful bid indicated shall, after the award of letting of the contract, be opened to public inspection.”
Nine senators voted for the bill, with four voting against it and two senators absent. If Mapp vetoes it, ten votes would be needed to override.
Voting for the bill were: Roach, Sens. Marvin Blyden (D-STT), Dwayne DeGraff (I-STT), Jean Forde (D-STT), Novelle Francis (D-STX), Alicia “Chucky” Hansen (I-STX), Myron Jackson (D-STT), Janette Millin Young (D-STT) and Brian Smith (D-At Large). Voting no were Sens. Neville James (D-STX), Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly (D-STX), Janelle Sarauw (I-STT) and Kurt Vialet (D-STX). Sens. Positive Nelson and Sammuel Sanes were absent.