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Breaking News / Government / News / Politics / Top Stories / Virgin Islands / May 16, 2019

Members of the newly formed Senate Majority have said in a release that change was needed because prior leadership operated in opacity and little to no work was getting done.

The Senate Majority was reorganized on Wednesday leading to the ouster of Senators Kenneth Gittens and Donna Frett-Gregory from their leadership roles of Senate president and Senate vice president respectively, as well as the loss of the Committee on Finance chair, which was held by Mrs. Frett-Gregory but is now under the leadership of Senator Kurt Vialet. The Finance Committee chair is the Senate’s most powerful as it has vast control of the government’s purse strings and works closely with the executive branch of government to determine the territory’s agenda. 

The motion for the reorganization was led by Senator Marvin Blyden, the Majority leader. Tensions flew high at that Session, which started on Tuesday and continued into Wednesday. Following Mr. Blyden’s motion, Mr. Gittens, then-Senate president, called a recess, reconvened 45 minutes later, adjourned the session and dismissed central staff — including media and transportation — for the remainder of the day, according to Senator Novelle Francis, the latest Senate president. The senators were left stranded at the Earl B. Ottley Legislature, Mr. Francis said, and no media was present to capture the moment (the feature image of this story, provided by the Legislature, was shot using a cellphone).

Even so, the Senate reconvened to form the new Majority. It includes 11 members, nine of whom were present to participate in the formation of the new majority, with eight voting for the reorganization (Senator Dwayne DeGraff abstained).

The members voting in favor of the reorganization were Senators Alicia V. Barnes, Myron Jackson, Allison L. DeGazon, Marvin A. Blyden, Javan E. James, Sr., Steven A. Payne, Sr., and Janelle K. Sarauw. Senator Kurt Vialet, who was excused due to a previously scheduled commitment. Five senators — Mr. Gittens, Mrs. Frett-Gregory, Oakland Benta, Athneil Thomas and Stedmann Hodge, Jr., were absent.

“A legislative body is a group comprised of equals,” said Mr. Blyden. “It is simply unacceptable for a legislative president to make unilateral decisions regarding the legislature’sdirection and operations without conferring with his colleagues. In all legislative bodies, the President or Chair should be mindful of their responsibilities as a servant of the body and not its master.”

“We were dissatisfied with the direction of the legislature under the former President,” said Ms. Barnes, the Legislature’s new secretary. “After the first 100 days we took the opportunity to evaluate our progress, and realized that we could not move forward positively under the present leadership. For this reason, we have realigned our majority to form a group that we feel is best suited to work together for the betterment of all Virgin Islands residents. Sen. Francis has always displayed the qualities of leadership and is certainly to lead this body forward.”

“Purposeful governing is about making tough, gut wrenching decisions and it’s also about figuring out a better way to do things. It is obvious that this move is about erecting a new leadership that is productive, considers all sides of a matter and does not work in a silo. I am honored to be asked to be a part of the majority and I will remain focused on my platform and strong agenda for St. Croix as elected,” said Ms. DeGazon.

“I look forward to working with the new leadership of the 33rd Legislature of the Virgin Islands and my colleagues. The majority has spoken and it is now time for us to focus on moving the agenda of the 33rd forward. There is work to be done as we move forward in a new direction,” said Mr. James.

Ms. Sarauw said Wednesday’s reorganization was a live demonstration of democracy in action. “The reorganization process is democratic in nature,” she stated. “The Declaration of Independence gives the people the right to alter, abolish or even institute new government. We did this today. Democracy is not finite. Rather, it is the will of the people.”

Mr. Jackson, the former president who now serves as vice president of the Senate, stated, “This reorganization of the 33rd comes with the understanding that the new leadership was necessary and in the best interests of the territory. I am committed to working with all of my colleagues on achieving our mandates and doing what is necessary to best represent our territory and its people.”

Mr. Francis said he intends to lead the body considering the input of all members. “I was approached by my colleagues, who were frustrated by the lack of consensus building,” he said. “Leading any institution takes a team approach, not one that is focused on self. I am honored to accept this new role and expect to work with the entire body in a collaborative and purposeful manner.”

Gittens issues statement

Mr. Gittens issued a statement late Wednesday accusing 33rd Legislature lawmakers of attempting to cover up the impending results of an Office of the Inspector General audit report on the 31st and 32nd Legislatures’ finances.

The senator was also not ready to cede his position, questioning whether the actions taken by a majority of 9 lawmakers were legal.

Mr. Gittens said that shortly after assuming the office of Senate president, he discovered serious irregularities. Realizing the problems were much bigger than could be addressed internally, Mr. Gittens said he wrote to the Inspector General on February 6, 2019 requesting a full-scale audit.

“The 31st and 32nd Legislature operated beyond the bounds of both ethics and the law and every effort is being made to orchestrate a cover up,” Mr. Gittens said (in his statement, the senator still considered himself the president of the 33rd Legislature).

Mr. Gittens said he was elected by the people of St. Croix and, whatever the outcome, would continue to do his best on their behalf. He said his primary concern was any disruption in conducting the people’s business.

“At the end of the day any such disorganized and abrupt actions only serve in delaying action on the many important matters before us,” he said. “But we also must consider that the last time the body was abruptly reorganized the end result was chaos and, eventually, led to jail terms when the misdeeds caught up with them.”

He added, “This is not a drama session,” he said. “Our deliberations will never be without politics, but we must put the people’s business first. Some have forgotten that it is not about serving ourselves, we must remain ever mindful that it is about serving our people. May God continue to bless the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Ernice Gilbert
I wear many hats, I suppose, but the one which fits me best would be journalism, second to that would be radio personality, thirdly singer/songwriter and down the line. I've been the Editor-In-Chief at my videogames website, Gamesthirst, for over 5 years, writing over 7,000 articles and more than 2 million words. I'm also very passionate about where I live, the United States Virgin Islands, and I'm intent on making it a better place by being resourceful and keeping our leaders honest. VI Consortium was birthed out of said desire, hopefully my efforts bear fruit. Reach me at [email protected]

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These Are The Committee Assignments Of The Newly Formed Senate Majority

A reorganizing of the 33rd Legislature's Majority Caucus took place during a Senate session today, thrusting the four-month-old...

May 15, 2019