The V.I. Taxicab Commission Board has not hired enforcement officers recently because under the terms of an executive order, anyone they hired would be redirected to the Virgin Islands Police Department during the pandemic, according to Chairwoman Loretta Lloyd.
Lloyd on Friday told the V.I. Senate Committee on Government Operations and Consumer Protection that the board won’t fill the positions during the pandemic, even though they are badly needed, because of Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.’s executive order.
“Our greatest challenge remains the lack of use of our enforcement officers to do the work for which they were hired due to the governor’s executive order,” Lloyd said. “In fact, truth be known, if within the budget for 2022 we were able to hire any enforcement officers, upon completion of the Virgin Islands Police Academy they would have to report to the Virgin Islands Police Department until such time as the executive order is lifted. If the board is unable to have full functionality of the agency’s enforcement officers, it makes no sense to hire any currently.”
Sen. Javan James Sr. had asked why the chief of taxi enforcement position had not been filled, as it is critical to internal operations of the commission and without the position filled “that means it is basically lawless.”
Lloyd told James the vacancy, like the others, was not filled because the commission never advertised to announce the vacancies, because “it was during COVID times.”
When pressed by James to see when the commission was planning on advertising and filling the vacancies, Lloyd responded, “COVID is still here senator.”
On June 15, Lloyd said she wrote Bryan to request the return of the commission’s enforcement officers, “but was advised by Deputy Chief of Staff [Kevin] Rodriquez to communicate the same to [then-Police Commissioner Trevor Velinor]. On July 12, 2021, I requested the same of Commissioner designee [Ray] Martinez. To date, we have not received a response.”
The Taxicab Commission had to comply with reassigning every enforcement officer it had to aid the V.I. Police Department in performing public safety functions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Lloyd said getting stuck with the bill was unfair.
“It was stipulated that the agency or department for whom those officers were employed would continue to cover the payroll and use of the vehicles to include fuel and maintenance,” Lloyd said. “This was and continues to be a tremendous strain on our financial resources, contributing to a major setback for the effective operations of the V.I. Taxicab Commission, an agency that relies on generating its own revenue to cover payroll and all its expenses.”
Every eight-hour shift performed by the commission’s officers for the VIPD is paid by the commission. If an employee receives overtime, the police department would be responsible to pay that portion, Lloyd clarified.
The plea for relief largely fell on deaf ears, with Sen. Carla Joseph saying the situation might require “we check with colleagues” and Sen. Alma Francis Heyliger saying she just doesn’t understand why the commission doesn’t hire.
Lloyd maintained the commission’s stance and said, “When the COVID settles down and is over, then we will hire the other officer.”
The committee also advanced bills to honor Hillary “Baga” Rezende and Elridge Blake. Bill No. 34-0080 was stalled in the committee; the bill would appropriate $250,000 for the Legislature to hire a special investigator to investigate the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority.
Sens. Francis Heyliger, James, Joseph, Marvin Blyden, and Franklin Johnson were present for the hearing. Sen. Novelle Francis Jr. and Milton Potter were absent. Additional non-committee members also attended the hearing.