Senator at Large Carmen Wes-selhoft defended her vote to allow Sirenusa developers Enighed Condominiums LLC to change the zoning of the project’s site from R-2 to R-3 at a Friday afternoon, April 20, St. John Rotary meeting.
Wesselhoft, who said she usually “speaks from the heart,” came prepared with a speech.
“I know the hot topic is Sirenusa, and I understand perfectly your concerns and frustration,” said Wesselhoft. “I decided to run for office because I was personally disgusted by the changes on St. John.”
Voting against the Sirenusa rezoning would not have cured St. John development problems, explained the senator at large.
“Our environment has deteriorated and our infrastructure is taxed beyond belief,” said Wesselhoft. “These problems would not have been solved by saying no. I couldn’t in good conscience vote no.”
Decision Not Made Lightly
Wesselhoft took her decision on the Sirenusa matter seriously, and, despite published reports, did not advise other senators how to vote on the issue, she explained.
“My decision was not made lightly,” said Wesselhoft. “It was based solely on what I think is fair in this case. I did not advise other senators on how to vote.”
Senators must decide on their own how they will vote on each issue, Wesselhoft continued.
“Each senator has a conscience, and they vote their conscience,” she said. “I don’t sway votes. Let’s be honest – with or without my vote, this would have passed.”
One resident took issue with Wesselhoft’s claim that she voted based on her conscience.
“I think it’s important you vote the way we hired you to vote,” said Catherine Fahie. “We pay your salary. You work for us.”
Moratorium “Too Little, Too Late”
St. John’s problems can be helped with Wesselhoft’s proposed legislation for a moratorium on development, she explained.
“Enforcement is the key, and planning is essential,” said Wes-selhoft. “I’m still hammering out the details of the moratorium, but I went public since I mentioned the moratorium during the Sirenusa vote.”
Local business owner Cid Hamling criticized Wesselhoft’s efforts to implement the moratorium after voting yes on the Sirenusa rezoning request.
“I hope you get it through, but it’s too little, too late,” Hamling said.
Wesselhoft reminded the audience she has been on the job just over 100 days.
“I have submitted at least 20 pieces of legislation which I’m having a hard time getting out of legal counsel,” said the senator at large. “I’m doing the best I can at the speed I can. There’s a process I have to go through.”
Senators Not Earning Trust
Rotary president John Fuller asked why the Sirenusa vote, which was not on the senate’s agenda, was introduced just six minutes before the end of the day’s session.
“I don’t have control of what’s introduced in a session,” said Wesselhoft. “The way it was introduced reminded me of what happened in December (when a surprise legislative session was called to vote on pay raises for senators, the governor and the lieutenant governor) when everything was shoved down the people of the territory’s throats.”
Coral Bay resident Bonny Corbeil asked Wesselhoft to take a message back to the legislature.
“We are all still feeling beat up,” said Corbeil. “More than anything, it was the way it was done – sneaking it in at the last minute. Please let the other senators know this does not earn our trust.”
The approval of Sirenusa’s rezoning request opens the door to other developers to break the rules, according to Fahie.
“Anyone Can Do Anything”
“I need to say how disappointed I am with your vote,” she said. “Those clowns got away with everything they’ve pulled. This sends a message that anybody can do anything they want on St. John.”
“I’m just waiting for the next disaster,” Fahie added.
Wesselhoft urged everyone to remain calm and look to the future.
“We need to look at the bigger picture,” said the senator at large. “It’s time to take a deep breath and see what we can do with what we have left. We all have to live here together, and I hope it’s a wonderful, harmonious living relationship.”
Wesselhoft, who canceled two previous appearances on St. John, missed a Health Committee meeting to appear at the Rotary session, and, as a result, was “chewed out” by the senate president, she said.