WAPA Investigates Racist FB Post by Deputy Legal Counsel

Property and Procurement Commissioner Anthony Thomas is peppered by questions from the Senate Finance Committee Friday. (Photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)
2019 file photo shows Anthony Thomas, chairman of the board of WAPA, addressing the Senate. (File photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)

Denouncing statements made on social media by its deputy legal counsel as “overtly racist and repugnant,” V.I. Water and Power Authority officials meeting in executive session Monday determined that the power to fire him lays in the hands of the utility’s executive director.

Reporting out of executive session, the board said in a statement that an “active investigation” into the statements made by attorney Mark Kragel is “currently underway.”

“The board is anticipating that management will move in a timely manner to address this issue,” according to the statement. “The board will be making a more detailed statement; however, at this juncture, we would like to reiterate our support for Commissioner (Anthony D.) Thomas’ statement this weekend that racist behavior will not be tolerated by leaders of the organization. And finally, the board would like to say that Black lives do matter.”

While Kragel’s statements have been deleted from Facebook, several residents have posted screenshots on their personal pages or local networking forums such as What’s Going on St. Thomas. In them, Kragel describes Black Lives Matter as a “terrorist organization” and ends with a profane dismissal of the group.

Almost immediately, online petitions calling for Kragel’s resignation began circulating among the community, with one accumulating more than 1,000 signatures in just a matter of days. WAPA itself issued two statements on Saturday morning, including an initial one from board chair Anthony D. Thomas which said, “it goes without saying that this behavior will not be tolerated by leaders of this organization, and I dare say all those in our community who value and respect people equally.”

Thomas added, “today as board chair, WAPA reiterates that black lives do matter and that racism and bigotry is not now, nor at any point tolerated” and called for Monday’s emergency meeting to deal with the matter.

WAPA Executive Director Lawrence Kupfer soon followed suit. In a statement released an hour after Thomas’, Kupfer said, “expressions by WAPA employees on privately-owned social media accounts and other public forums do not reflect those of the authority’s governing board, its senior leadership team or management. Management and senior leadership employees are never encouraged to express unpopular, politically incorrect, and or inflammatory statements.”

Board members at Monday’s meeting were: Thomas, Noel Loftus, Juanita Young, Joel Lee, Kyle Fleming, Hubert Turnbull, Elizabeth Armstrong, Cheryl Boynes Jackson, and Jed JohnHope.