Horse Racing Commission Chairmanship Still Under Dispute

Sen. Kurt Vialet at a Sept. 27 Youth, Sports, Parks and Recreation Committee hearing. (Photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)

Senators voted Friday to move forward a bill that would set district requirements for the chairman of the Horse Racing Commission, but a dispute over who occupies that position has not been resolved according to commission members.

“As many of you are aware there has been some torment among the leadership on the USVI Horse Racing Commission,” said commission member Laura Palminteri in written testimony read into the record in her absence.

On November 2018, the St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix Horse Racing Commissions were dissolved and replaced with one Virgin Island Horse Racing Commission.

According to Palminteri’s testimony, Jay Watson was the chairman of the commission from Dec. 31, 2018 to Aug. 30, 2019. During a meeting held Aug. 30 the commission elected Palminteri chairman by what she said was majority vote.

However, “an allegation was made that this was an illegal vote and it was won by simple majority and not the two thirds majority. This allegation has been forwarded to legal counsel for review and an ultimate decision,” Palminteri’s testimony states. The outcome is currently undecided.

Commissioner of Sports, Parks, and Recreation Calvert White answers senator’s questions during the Youth, Sports, Parks and Recreation Committee meeting. (Photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)

Commissioner of Sports, Parks, and Recreation Calvert White confirmed a decision had not been rendered. White said there is information the Attorney General is requesting before a decision can be made.

“I think one of the problems is that this meeting was held and the minutes that were kept … they are not verbatim,” White said. “Which means that it was kind of guesstimated on what was said in that meeting. There was no recorder with nobody actually taking the minutes and that’s an issue.”

White told senators that even without a chairman the committee can still convene.

But Horse Racing Commission member Sheldon Turnbull said he couldn’t give a time frame for when things would move forward with the racetrack. Part of the chairman’s job is to move forward things as it pertains to the agenda, he said.

“There has been things put forward by members of the commission that needed to be placed on the agenda that have not, like the rules for instance, drug policy, these things have been worked on from February or before and they were never placed on the agenda by Chairman Watson,” Turnbull said. “There is documentation to show where it was asked to be placed on it and it wasn’t done. So as you question as to why or when can it move forward, part of the reason of removing Chairman Watson from that particular chair was to enable the board to move things forward of that sort.”

Because Watson has challenged his removal there have been delays in moving forward, according to Turnbull.

“After we passed legislation to create a territorial horse racing commission and first Gov. Mapp and then Gov. Bryan have appointed members, it has just been chaos,” said Sen. Kurt Vialet. “So now along with making sure the development proceeds at the right speed, we are having issues internally within the commission that doesn’t look good for the sport of horse racing overall. The actions of the commission over the last couple weeks have been totally ridiculous.”

Senators requested additional documents from the commission, including a copy of their bylaws and rules, standard operation procedures, notes and emails about anti-doping policy, scheduled meetings, and announcements made by the body.

The bill being considered by the senate would establish district requirements for the chairman of the Horse Race Commission and set meeting frequencies and a due date for the franchisee financial obligation. The bill mandates that the vice-chairman and chairman of the Horse Racing Commission not be held by members from the same district.