The Source asked every senatorial candidate ten questions, to fairly give every candidate an opportunity to tell our readers about themselves where they stand on some of the most pressing issues of the day. You can see all the candidates’ responses and more election news here.
Clint D.W. Ferris is running as an independent to represent St. Croix. Also known as “Hondo” to his family and friends, Ferris was born on the island of Antigua to Wilston and Patsy James Ferris, who moved back and forth to the U.S. Virgin Islands in the mid ’60s, the ’70s and permanently in 1980. One of 12 children, Clint grew up in public housing and was educated by the VI public education system. He received a bachelor’s in history and master’s in education administration from Ball State University. Clint returned to St. Croix and immersed himself in fields of historic and cultural preservation, education and human development, social services, and community development. He is a father of three and a member of the Moravian faith.
Here are the responses from Ferris:
What will be your top priority as a legislator and why?
Ferris: Diversify and strengthen the economy. Reform and Restructure the Educational system. Rehabilitate, restore and revitalize the natural and built environment. Generations of poverty, the lack of opportunity, and the in ability of generations of Virgin Islands to grow and access wealth as resulted in the present social crisis overwhelming our community. This should be our first priority, not fifteen. Just one. We should all work collaboratively to address these issues. There are other areas of serious concerns, which are part and parcel of greater issues. For example – Crime, GERS, and the high cost of energy, if the community is anxious regarding these basic needs-food, shelter, security and safety-we are hampered from moving forward on any front; the basic Maslow hierarchy of needs.
The V.I. government had ongoing deficits before the pandemic hit and now faces a sharp loss in revenue due to a significant decrease in tourism. How can the territory avoid a fiscal shortfall that could force cuts to services and government layoffs in order to pay creditors first?
Ferris: We cannot avoid the fiscal fallout of the pandemic; what we can do is the lessen the impact of the fall through creative revenue generating legislation as well as use pandemic funds wisely. Ensure proper oversight is in compliance with federal funding requirements so that funds are never returned. Additionally, let’s enforce the laws of the land; millions of dollars in fees and taxes are owed and the GVI can enthusiastically work towards the collection of this outstanding revenue.
How will you help make government more transparent?
Ferris: Title 1, Chapter 15 implies that transparency is afforded the people, but it is limited and not fully realized. There is a litany of items within the law that precludes the people’s right to know. Subsection (a)reads “All meetings of a governmental agency or of a subdivision thereof authorized to take action on behalf of the agency shall be open to the public.” To that end, all the exceptions listed under subsection (b) appears to be moot, confidential and sensitive matters outlined in subsection (b) can be executed outside a public forum for instance subcommittee’s of the instrumentalities boards that are not covered in V.I.C Title 1, chapter 15. Another revision, that is required “(j)Any person who knowingly violates the provisions of this chapter is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not to exceed $500.00.” The public trust is sacred and penalties associated with the violation of such a breech should be more severe. I will work to secure the people’s right to know.
The V.I. Legislature has on many occasions enacted unfunded mandates, from mandatory swimming classes or the unfunded Durant Tower project in Frederiksted, that never occur due to the lack of funding. Will you vote for mandates that government officials have testified require funding that is not provided in the legislation?
Ferris: No more unfunded mandates! This practice has got to stop. That sort of legislation is meaningless and does no good to anyone. Let’s stop cloaking public good with hallowed promises.
The territory has around 120 boards and commissions at present, most of which are unable to make quorums and many, like the Civil Rights Commission, the Maritime Academy Board, the Commission on Caribbean Cooperation and the V.I. Wage Board, have not operated in many years. Would you ever vote to create another board or commission and if so, under what circumstances?
Ferris: One of the initiatives of my platform is to re-establish the Anti-Litter and Beautification Commission; a commission that was functioning prior to the creation of the Waste Management Authority and since its dissolution the Commission’s lost continues to have negative impact on our territory. By reestablishing the Commission and having that Commission work in tandem with Waste Management Authority to do Education and community outreach pertaining to Antilitter and Beautification initiatives and the benefits of reducing, reusing and recycling of waste. With the exception of that, I am of the belief, no more boards or commissions until the dissolution or disbanding of these non-functioning entities.
What would you propose to address the collapse of GERS in light of the $3 billion-plus shortfall and projected exhaustion of all funds between 2020 and 2024?
Ferris: Equally, vexing is the looming insolvency of the Virgin Islands Government Employee Retirement System (GERS). Immediate attention needs to be placed on funding alternatives. Such alternatives can include the increase in the GERS contributions salary cap to match the Social Security salary cap, the establishment of a minimum retirement age with and without penalty, and the revision and expansion of the GERS tiered system.
Where do you stand on medicinal marijuana and what is the Senate’s role in getting it on the market and generating tax revenue?
Ferris: The medical marijuana legislation has my guarded support. The Legislature’s responsibility is to create the infrastructure that will develop and advance this emerging industry as well as ensure systems are in place to regulate and monitor its growth. It is very necessary on the part of the Legislature of the Virgin Islands to erect mechanisms that will also ensure that VI farmers and locals are the ones benefiting economically from this industry. While, we continue to struggle in the implementation and execution of medical cannabis legislation, and we are immersed in an untimely discussion to legalize the recreational use of Marijuana. As are we focus on those aspects, I also want to bring light to the other potential industries such as the expansion of the Agricultural industry and light manufacturing of beauty products has equal if not greater ability to help generate prosperity for our territory.
What fuels violent crime in the territory and what should the government, nonprofit organizations and residents do to help alleviate it?
Ferris: In order to stop the increase in the rate of violent crime, we need to figure out what ails the heart and mind of the people of our community, and until we do that, we will not make a dent in the body count. Violent crime is a function of a community that has lost its way, a community in crisis and learned helplessness. Violent crime is situational, profitable, and anti-social. So to fix this we must change the narrative; change the situation, the threat to our socio-economic, psychological, economical and institutional effects, which will remove the attraction to settle dispute with guns and bullets. Then we will become a community again and violet crime will fix itself.
Climate change is a growing threat to Virgin Islanders with a myriad of effects ranging from an increase in tropical storms to more severe health issues as a result of warming temperatures. What types of policies will you support to educate the community on the risks of climate change and to increase the territory’s preparation and mitigation efforts?
Ferris: The fitness of our community is dependent on whether our children can go to school free of hazards and how our families can build in communities without fearing for their safety. The health of our environment correlates to the vibrancy of our economy, the cultivation of entrepreneurial opportunities, and the attraction of investments or the mere fact that after retirement one will be able to find the Virgin Islands as the best place to retire. Simply, let’s build with our environment with knowledge that the world is changing in mind. Build stronger, let’s stop cutting down all those large hundred-year-old trees which is central to our ecosystem, stop littering and polluting our environment, and reduce our carbon footprint.
Why do you want to be a Virgin Islands legislator and why should voters choose you over other candidates?
Ferris: As a person who has called the Virgin Islands home from the age of seven, it is the only home I know and the place that matters most to my family and me. I was educated here so I am passionate about the education system and the availability of the best instructional environment for our students and workforce training for the people our Islands. As a member of many boards, societies, and organizations throughout the years, I believe we here in the Virgin Islands can work towards increasing our agricultural light manufacturing production to increase our self-sustainability as well as produce and export goods to other areas thus boosting our economy. I understand that our environment and natural resources need to be protected and if we are to continue growing it will be in our best interest to grow responsibly and minimize the trail of waste we leave behind for future generations. I possess the vision and analytical skills as well the ability to work well with others to help produce, vet, and understand how creating policies that transforms our potential into prosperity takes priority over the benefit of any single individual, group of persons, or entity.