Governor John deJongh Jr. made his priorities known during his Monday even-ing, January 22, State of the Territory Address, when he appointed Vincent Frazer as Attorney General; Albert Bryan Jr. as Labor Commissioner; and Jessica Gallivan as Chief Negotiator — and did not nominate a Deputy Commissioner of Police or St. John Administrator.
While the governor addressed the territory’s issues in broad terms, he specifically address the proposed parking garage/ vendors plaza at the Creek in Cruz Bay.
“On St. John, I have made a commitment to the residents that planning will come before extensive public projects,” deJongh said. “To this end, I have given instructions to counsel to see how, and how soon, we can terminate the agreements in place with respect to the ill-conceived and undersized parking project at the Creek in Cruz Bay. I restate my commitment to a vigorous public-private planning process coordinated by a planner in the administrator’s office on St. John.”
No Administrator Named
During his campaign, deJongh vowed to have a plan and a planner in place for St. John by the first quarter of 2007.
St. John was left hanging as deJongh did not name an island administrator in his speech. A Tuesday afternoon, January 23, telephone call to the administrator’s office revealed that there is no acting administrator in place while the island waits for deJongh to appoint someone to this position, as former St. John Administrator Julien Harley is no longer in office.
The governor addressed the dire financial status of the territory in his speech.
“The state of our territory is troubling,” said deJongh. “Our budget is structurally in deficit as general fund expenditures continue to exceed general fund revenues, and year after year the deficit exceeds 50 million dollars. Our bonded debt continues to grow, as a weight and shackle on our children and grandchildren, and our debt per capita is now more than twice that of any state and 30 percent more than Puerto Rico.”
No Mention of Pay Raises
“Thirty-five percent of our children are living in poverty,” the governor continued. “Our family incomes are a third lower than the poorest state in the union, even as our cost of living is higher.”
DeJongh did not address the recent hot topic of a bill passed in the Senate in December that will raise the governor’s annual salary from $80,000 to $150,000; the lieutenant governor’s salary from $75,000 to $125,000; senators’ salary from $65,000 to $85,000; and the senate president’s salary from $75,000 to $95,000.
Thousands of angry voters have called for deJongh to repeal the pay raises, and for the recall of senators who voted in favor of the pay raises.
DeJongh then addressed the issue of crime, which is hindering the territory’s economic development, he explained.
Restoring Trust in VIPD
“Problems of crime continue unabated,” the governor said. “Fears over safety undermine life in our homes, our communities and our schools. Criminal activity perpetrated by minors is growing, and safety concerns undermine our efforts in economic development.”
While the governor laid out his plans to restore trust in the Virgin Islands Police Department, he did not announce a new VIPD commissioner.
“I will see to it that new recruits dedicated to law enforcement are hired and trained without delay, and that the department has the resources to pursue its top priorities,” deJongh said. “These priorities are and must be solving open cases, addressing the growing problem of gang violence, increasing foot patrols and auxiliary units in our communities, operating a crime lab with a forensic staff, and treating incidents of domestic violence and the abuse of women and children as the unacceptable crimes they are. To ensure that you reach the police when you need them, a fully working and effective 911 system must be in place.”
Focus on Student Performance
“Collectively, these efforts will restore trust in our police department, which is the missing ingredient for us to successfully fight crime as a community,” the governor added.
DeJongh’s education reform plan includes giving management responsibility and greater control over teacher recruitment to superintendents, the governor explained.
“In education, our efforts will focus increasingly on the classroom, on teacher professional development and on student performance,” deJongh said. “We are going to reorganize our school system to give management responsibility to superintendents, and give them greater control over teacher recruitment and involvement in teacher certification. In order to address the condition of our schools, and allow the education establishment to focus on teaching and learning, we will augment the maintenance staff with private firms whose contracts will be based on strict performance benchmarks.”
The governor did not address efforts to provide St. John children with a safe public kindergarten through 12th grade school by moving the Julius E. Sprauve School out of Cruz Bay through a land swap with the Virgin Islands National Park — a plan he said he was committed to during his campaign.
‘Together We Will’
DeJongh ended his State of the Territory Address on a positive note, tying in his signature campaign message — “together we can.”
“What our residents and voters hope, and will rightly demand, is that we make choices for the greater good, that we face first things first, that we cooperate and not waste time and money,” deJongh said. “We must produce, not pontificate, and we must place performance ahead of politics. Our challenges can only be met by bringing together the best of the Virgin Islands — our best ideas, our best efforts, all of our people.”
“Because I know — and you know — that together we can, and together we will,” the governor concluded.