Aerial view of Magens Bay in St. Thomas, USVI. By GETTY IMAGES
Senators who make up the Committee on Rules and Judiciary convened on Thursday to vote on four nominations and several bills. Among the measures was Bill No. 33-0374, sponsored by Senator Janelle Sarauw, which seeks to change the composition of the Magens Bay Authority Board and the method of appointing members to its ranks.
The measure intends to reconstruct the board by changing who can serve and who is in charge of appointing members. It further specifies what should be the professional background of four members: one representative should be in the environmental, conservation, agroforestry, or forestry field; one representative from the hospitality industry; and one representative from the small business community.
The bill calls on the governor to appoint one private citizen, and the other two private citizens, who must be from the St. Thomas/ St. John district, would be appointed by the board through a process. Presently, the Magens Bay Authority Board is composed of seven members who are either native Virgin Islanders or long-term residents who currently work or have worked in the private sector, government, or academia.
The bill further intends to remove the governor as a board member and replace with a senior member of the governor's St. Thomas office. Additionally, the measure seeks to reduce the number of years a member can serve on the board from six years to three, and lastly, it increases the number for a quorum from three to four.
The board's chair, along with its attorney voiced strong opposition to the measure.
"The proposed legislation, at least as we have seen it to date, would violate the Constitution," said Attorney Mark D. Hodge, citing a court case as precedent. "Moreover, it would also make future board members potentially beholden to those in places of political power, rather than following the clear and unambiguous intent of the Magens Bay Authority's original mandate, which is to maintain the Magens Bay Beach park for the enjoyment of all residents of the Virgin Islands, without regard to race, creed, or color and without political influence or frequent changes in board membership following the course of elections."
Katina Coulianos, the Magens Bay Authority chair, said, "The impetus behind the measure stems from a lack of knowledge of the history and operations of the authority and its board, compounded by misinformation, politics, and speculation." Ms. Coulianos further stated that Mr. Arthur Fairchild, the grantor of Magens Bay Beach, "wanted the board to have longevity, continuity and be self-perpetuating."
She added, "He did not want it to be subject to political influence and interference, which is why there is a limit on positions held by government officials and why appointments are not made by politicians."
Perplexed by Ms. Coulianos's and Mr. Hodge's statements, Senator Kurt Vialet questioned the testifiers on how the bill changes the intention of Mr. Fairchild since the bill does not intend to change the beach from being a public park for the use of residents of the Virgin Islands. Mr. Vialet also drew attention to Ms. Coulianos's statement that said Mr. Fairchild did not want the Magens Bay board "subject to political influence," even though most of the board's current members have worked as government officials or are presently working as such, he said.
"To have a political argument is totally irrelevant because your present composition reeks of politics," said Mr. Vialet
During Sen. Sarauw's final remarks on her bill, she said, "If the board was open for change there would be no need for this legislation today."
The bill was supported by the committee and will be heard in the full body for final vetting and approval or failure, before heading to Governor Bryan.
Along with Bill No. 33-0374, the following bills and nominees were unanimously approved by lawmakers and will be sent to the full body for further consideration.
The nominees include:
The approved bills include: