Two more U.S. Virgin Islands government agencies, the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, stepped closer to having a permanent chief on Tuesday when lawmakers approved Gov. Albert Bryan’s nominees to lead them.
During the Senate session at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, lawmakers approved Dary Jaschen to lead VITEMA and Richard Evangelista to head Licensing and Consumer Affairs.
Jaschen, a West Point and Army War College graduate, served 30 years in the U.S. Army before serving as army chief of staff for the V.I. National Guard. He took on roles related to emergency preparedness and response and was the management representative with the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region II. In that role, he was integral in the development of FEMA’s USVI Hurricane and Earthquake/ Tsunami Standard Operating Procedures.
At the V.I. National Guard, Jaschen also assumed a support role for VITEMA, serving as a management representative at the agency’s monthly emergency management meetings.
While lawmakers did not think the territory was fully prepared for hurricane season, they commended Jaschen for his responsiveness to questions from lawmakers during the confirmation process.
Senate President Sen. Novelle Francis (D-STX) said VITEMA handled crisis management well but urged Jaschen to considering focusing on preparation for other mass casualty events other than hurricanes, and to begin tabletop exercises.
“It’s not ‘if,’ it’s ‘when,’ and we need to make sure we are actually preparing to address those issues,” Francis said.
Evangelista, meanwhile, is a first-generation Virgin Islander born on St. Croix to Filipino immigrant parents. He graduated from Howard University Law and served in various legal positions across the three branches of government. He was legal counsel to former Sen. Vargrave Richards in 1995 and senior policy advisor to former Gov. John deJongh in 2012.
Evangelista also served as legal counsel, then as acting chief executive officer, of the Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix, steering the hospital through four CMS surveys and two Category 5 hurricanes.
During confirmation hearings prior to the senate session, lawmakers commended Evangelista for his no-nonsense approach to business and responsiveness to phone calls at all hours.
As nominee to lead the DLCA, Evangelista said the agency will flex its enforcement arm, strengthen its consumer protection division, work on a faster license application process and monitor business compliance year-round.
Evangelista said among his specific priorities are receiving hurricane price lists from business owners dealing in goods deemed necessary for hurricane preparation and recovery. Evangelista told lawmakers that starting July 1, his agency will issue citations against businesses that do not submit the required price lists by the June 3 deadline. While Licensing and Consumer Affairs does not have prosecutorial powers, it can issue citations and cease-and-desist orders, and refer cases to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution.
Sen. Kenneth Gittens (D-STX) urged Evangelista to focus on his enforcement arm, and to come to the Senate with anything the division might need.
According to Evangelista, his agency will also restart bi-weekly field price surveys and a monthly food basket survey. The agency is also requesting proposals for a study that would analyze food prices in the territory and determine whether retailers are charging reasonable or exorbitant profit margins.
“Food prices in the Virgin Islands is astronomical, and it’s something that needs to be addressed,” Francis said. “Those of us who make a decent salary are challenged by the cost of food. So imagine those individuals who don’t have the types of salaries we do have.”
Lawmakers also unanimously approved the following resolutions:
– A resolution honoring Pastor Thelma Ruby Schade Youngblood for her contributions to the Lutheran Church of the Virgin Islands and the community.
– A resolution commending the Virgin Islands Port Authority for 50 years of service and contributions to the Virgin Islands.
– A resolution posthumously honoring Janice Pemberton Tutein many years of educating Virgin Islands youth and serving as culture bearer.
– A resolution commending Alwyn “Daddy Jones” Baptiste, Jr. for his contributions to the Virgin Islands music industry.
– A resolution posthumously honoring Alwyn “Big Al” Baptiste, Sr. for contributions to the music industry and to the Virgin Islands community.