Nearly 30 people came out for the St. John Community Foundation’s St. Thomas-St. John District Senatorial candidates debate to hear the government hopefuls discuss the top issues on St. John, from moving the Julius E. Sprauve School out of Cruz Bay, to the five-acre parcel of land in Coral Bay that was recently transferred from Housing, Parks and Recreation to the Department of Public Works.
Candidates Toi Barbel, Horace Brooks, Carlton Dowe, Ada Hodge, Ludrick Thomas, Lorelei Monsanto, Basil Ottley Jr., Norma Pickard Samuel, Patrick Simeon Sprauve; Senator Shawn Michael-Malone; Senator at Large candidate Carmen Wesselhoft; and Senator at Large Craig Barshinger were present at the Thursday evening, October 26, debate at the Westin Resort and Villas ballroom. Candidate Alvin Williams and Senators Celestino White Sr., Louis Hill and Liston Davis were not present.
Candidates were asked tough St. John-specific questions, and while some candidates provided detailed solutions to issues facing St. John, others were not even aware of the problems faced by Love City residents.
Population To Support School?
“I can not give you an honest answer, because I am not familiar with the Julius E. Sprauve School,” said Hodge when asked if she would use her office to fast-track moving the school out of Cruz Bay. “If it’s an emergency, then yes, I will support it.”
Ottley questioned whether St. John will continue to have the population to support a new school.
“Without resolving the issue of affordable housing, the idea of constructing a new school is problematic,” said Ottley. “Will you have the population to support this school if there is no affordable housing? If you look at the statistics on St. John, people are getting older and having less children.”
Building a new school is only part of what needs to be done to ensure the island’s children receive a proper education, according to Dowe.
“You can build a new building tomorrow, but what we need are incentives and recruiters for teachers,” Dowe said.
The issue of implementing a municipal government on St. John also received varied responses from the candidates.
The Virgin Islands can use today’s technology to provide municipal government, according to Brooks.
“Municipal government is not just a building,” Brooks said. “We are in an age of technology, and all functions that the government offers its citizens should be available on each island. If there are other ways to get this accomplished, I will support it.”
The Virgin Islands should be viewed as one entity rather than three different islands, according to Thomas.
“I’m not usually a proponent of municipal government,” Thomas said. “I believe the Virgin Islands have always been one people. My view is subject to change.”
Samuel would need to know the effects municipal government on St. John would have on the Virgin Islands before supporting the issue, she said.
“Before I advocate for anything, I would have to see the effect it would have on the entire Virgin Islands,” Samuel said. “You may not like my answer, but that is my position. I am a Virgin Islander first and foremost, and I’m not going to sit here and tell you what you want to hear and lie to you.”
Virgin Islanders must be educated on the implications of municipal government before it is implemented, according to Barbel.
“Native Virgin Islanders have allowed the status to be as it is today,” Barbel said. “I would support municipal government only if the populace is fully cognizant of the plan. All the rights of all the people must be served.”
Capital Improvement Fund Transparency
The candidates were in agreement when it came to making the accounting for the St. John Capital Improvement Fund transparent.
“Yes, we will get to the bottom to find out how much money is in the Capital Improvement Fund,” said Monsanto. “We need to keep the money on St. John.”
Michael-Malone questioned why disclosure has not already happened.
“I do support disclosing the financial information,” Michael-Malone said. “I don’t know why it hasn’t been done already. The fund generates a lot of money.”
The Capital Improvement Fund needs to be used only for capital improvements, according to Barshinger.
“We pay trash haulers from our Capital Improvement Fund, isn’t that ridiculous?” Barshinger said. “We never can get our infrastructure ahead. We will define it so it is there and can’t be touched for any reason other than capital improvements.”
Reversing Turnbull’s Decision
Some of the candidates said they would use their office to reverse Gov. Charles Turnbull’s decision to transfer a five-acre parcel of land in Coral Bay from Housing, Parks and Recreation to the Department of Public Works.
“We have to utilize our space more efficiently,” said Sprauve.
“I would try to get the decision reversed,” said Wesselhoft. “I don’t think that is a proper location for Public Works.”