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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, May 19, 2024
HomeNewsLocal governmentSenate Moves Several Nominations Forward for Consideration

Senate Moves Several Nominations Forward for Consideration

Celestino White gives testimony regarding his renomination for the Virgin Islands Port Authority Governing Board. (Photo courtesy V.I. Legislature)

Tuesday’s Committee on Rules and Judiciary hearing kicked off to a compelling start as senators received testimony from the Virgin Islands Port Authority Governing Board nominees Celestino A. White Sr. and Willard John. 

As a former 11-term senator, White also served in the United States Air Force in the Republic of Vietnam and served 23 years with the V.I. Police Department, and over time he was named chief of police. White was appointed to the VIPA governing board back in the 33rd Legislature of February 2020.

“I have over 42 years of experience in government budget planning, strategic planning, policy-making, and governance. I am particularly proud of my master’s degree in common sense and Ph.D. in street sense from the School of Hard Knocks,” White stated.

Senators commended both White and John for their accomplishments thus far as current members. However, concerns came to a head when it came to the district of St. Croix.

Sen. Franklin D. Johnson asked both VIPA board nominees what they are planning to do to get more airlines and flights directly to and from St. Croix in terms of inter-island travel.

As of March 23, SkyHigh Dominicana began non-stop flights and services between St. Thomas and the Dominican Republic, and in November 2020, Frontier Airlines announced its seasonal flights to St. Thomas, which have been increased to regular day-to-day flights. This left Johnson to question the intentions of the VIPA nominees.

White, advocating for his team, said that there have been several meetings. White explained that it is an overall challenge. “The executive director has been aggressively addressing this challenge, including approving an airline incentive program for new airlifts,” he said.

“All we can do is provide incentives to the airlines. We can’t force them to come”, said John.

Sen. Diane Capehart asked what are some of the wow factors that could be suggested to the board to make St. Croix more appealing to airlines and cruise ships regarding tourism.

John said that he is pushing to get the proper training for taxi drivers, so they can be well-informed and guide the tourists in terms of our history and culture. 

“One of our distinguishing features is our culture, so it’s a matter of how to display and develop our culture, not just for tourists but for us too. We have to make sure it’s passed down from generation to generation and there is not enough support governmentally for it to grow since the majority of our culture rests on the backs of individuals,” said John.

Senators were also concerned about the current Public Private Partnership (P3) Project and asked how the privatization of the port would affect GERS.

White said that since the project is still in the works, there are still kinks and tweaks to be made to finalize P3. Assuring senators, White also placed on the record that the senators’ concerns are also his concerns and he has no plans on resting until inter-island travel is all connected and management and employees receive raises in accordance with their work.

Among the others giving testimony were acting Attorney General Carol Thomas-Jacobs, nominee for Virgin Islands Superior Court judge, St. Thomas District, and Aaron Hutchinson, nominee for the V.I. Territorial Park Board of Trustees.

Starting out in the Virgin Islands, working at the law offices of Desmond Maynard as attorney support, Thomas-Jacobs worked her way to the Department of Justice Civil Division. In 2007 she was promoted to the Civil Division. In 2016 she was promoted to chief of the Civil Division, and in 2020 she became Chief Deputy Attorney General. She was appointed acting Attorney General in December.

Sen. Frett-Gregory was curious about the overall transition and caseload management as a judge and inquired how Thomas-Jacobs would handle the transition from Attorney General to Virgin Islands Supreme Court Judge.

Thomas-Jacobs said she would first have to assess her overall caseload and set the tone in terms of scheduling, create internal deadlines, and ensure things are completed by working with the attorneys.

In an attempt to determine her judgment style, senators threw out a slew of hard-hitting questions; however, it did not deter Thomas-Jacobs from standing her ground and maintaining her case-by-case basis. Thomas-Jacobs said her overall approach is fairness above all. “I cannot judge every case from a conservative, liberal, Democratic, or Republican standpoint. Every single case is unique and has its own approach,” she said.

Hutchins said, “Setting the framework and foundation for future management to go above and beyond what already exists is key.”

Of the 13 bills on the agenda, three were removed and the remaining 10 bills were passed. Senators happily breezed through blocks passing Bill No 35-0010, the $10,000 appropriation for signage to name the Christiansted Bypass “the Aloy Nielsen Bypass”; and Bill No. 35-0054, an act amending the Centennial Treasures Award, to provide for a single, lump sum award payment.

Other legislation, such as leasing agreements and financial legislation, were given amiable support. However, things took a turn and became uneasy for Johnson’s Bill No. 35-0055, which repeals V.I. History integration for all grades when senators requested amendments to move the bill forward.

Sen. Milton Potter stated, “From a practical standpoint that a strategy can come with amendments to support the creation of the integration with lower classes and stand-alone courses for higher grades.”

Capehart sent a stern message to her colleagues: “If you support the bill and you feel it needs to be changed, bring your amendments. That’s your job.”

Sens. Marise C. James, Diane T. Capehart, Angel Bolques Jr., Franklin D. Johnson, Carla Joseph, Milton Potter, and Kenneth L. Gittens, and Donna Frett-Gregory were present and unanimously agreed to move all three nominees forward to the full body for further consideration.

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