In this series, the Source introduces the community to the platforms of senatorial and gubernatorial candidates and gauges their approaches to issues in the territory. The Source sent each candidate the same questions and is running the answers in the order in which the candidates responded. We aim to publish all the candidate’s answers prior to the Nov. 8 General Election, contingent upon the candidates providing their responses in time. Any candidate with questions or in need of a link to the questionnaire can email us at email@example.com.
This story covers the views and planned initiatives of St. Thomas-St. John Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory.
Q: Why do you want to be a Virgin Islands leader, and why should voters choose you over other candidates? What are your top priorities for the territory and why?
From a very young age I was taught how important it is to participate in giving back to my community; and I have carried that throughout by adulthood. Throughout my life I have always been involved with organizations that provide support to our community, and I believe that if you put yourself up to be a public servant you must do just that-serve the people. My priorities for the territory include improved education and healthcare systems, diversifying our economy, supporting small businesses, moderate income homeownership opportunities and ensuring that our territory’s power system is reliable and efficient.
Q: What fuels violent crime in the territory, and what should the government, nonprofit organizations and residents do to help alleviate it?
There is not a single or simple answer as to what fuels violent crime in the territory, nor is there a single or simple answer on how to help alleviate it. Just as the cause is multi-pronged so is the solution. Parents must be more actively involved and engaged with what their children are doing and set the appropriate example for their children to follow. While the government should have programs and activities for children, nonprofit organizations should also become involved and create safe spaces for children. Equally important is the ensuring that we have PreK classrooms in our public schools, which allows our children to attend school earlier and allows teachers to identify cognitive issues from an early age. This will allow support systems to be put in place early. A reliable data system is also important as it provides information on children from birth to the workforce. All of which will provide support for job training and economic opportunities.
Q: How would you improve the territory’s electrical grid and implementation of renewable energy?
The process to improve the territory’s electrical grid and implement renewable energy has begun. During the 34th Legislature, I was successful in moving an amendment that required that an assessment of the electrical grid be conducted in order to earnestly identify the root cause of the vexing energy problems we have in the territory. I will continue to advocate for the swift installation of solar systems and will continue with my oversight responsibility in this endeavor.
Q: How can the territory improve upon its tourism product to better compete within the Caribbean region and beyond?
a. How would you improve the USVI’s taxi product? Do you think a service such as Uber could work here?
As a territory we continue to improve the tourism product. To better compete we need to ensure that we are collecting the data that indicates what tourists are looking for. It is important that we provide financial support to entrepreneurs who are interested in starting businesses that offer experiences that are unique to each island. We must invest more of our tourism revolving funds to advertise the territory; and focus on whether we really want to engage in sports tourism. Consideration must also be given to providing a subsidy to allow for the reopening of the golf course in St. Thomas.
Changes in our taxi industry have been few and far. It is time that we revisit the enabling legislation of the taxicab commission and make the necessary amendments to improve operations. Of course, ride share services could work in the territory. The issue is how we would want it to work. We must ensure that we are capable of implementing the service and ensure that we are able to properly track the service so that we can collect the taxes that would be due the government when implemented. The introduction and implementation of such service would take changes to our current laws. Further we must allow for payments to be made electronically, currently with electronic payments you have business charging customers for using their cards, this all needs to be addressed. Doing all this while ensuring that our local taxi drivers get first right to refusal on any new service consideration is vital.
Q: What are your plans to promote agriculture in the territory? The Vision 2040 exercise identified agriculture and better food security as the top concern of its survey respondents. How can the USVI achieve this goal?
I am proud to have moved legislation that created the Agricultural Plan for the territory. The plan was completed and submitted and has been funded in the 2023 fiscal year budget. The territory is well on the way to implementing the mandates of the agricultural plan with better food security being its primary concern.
Q: How should the territory balance development with environmental protection, especially given concerns around climate change?
a. What do you envision as the future of the St. Croix refinery?
b. Do you support an additional cruise ship dock in St. Thomas Harbor? Why or why not?
The balance between development and environmental protection will have to be done on a case-by-case basis until we adopt a land and water use plan. Legislators and administrators will have to review development plans and ensure that the plans include mitigation processes to protect the environment and our natural resources. I will continue to push for the development of a comprehensive land and water use plan.
The St. Croix refinery is a private property and as such the owners will determine what they would like to do with the property. As a legislator I will impartially review any proposals that come before the senate for review and approval. What I do not envision is the St. Croix refinery becoming an eyesore. The refinery has purpose, and that purpose must be identified while protecting the health, well-being of our people and our natural resources.
Naturally you would think that an additional cruise ship dock means additional revenues to our coffers, however, we have to review and consider the environmental impact of the new dock. Harkening back to your previous question, we must balance development with the protection of our environment, and it would be absolutely necessary to review all documentation and ensure that studies on the impact are thoroughly conducted before a decision can be made. Consideration must also be given to how traffic will flow and the overall impact on the community.
Q: What is your position on Caneel Bay on St. John? Should it be redeveloped? Left in its natural state? A mix of the two?
While this matter is one that evokes emotion in our people, the matter of Caneel Bay must be settled by a court of competent jurisdiction. However, this situation reminds us as a people of our continued status with the U.S. and of the issues native St. Johnians have with property ownership on St. John. However, I am firm on the importance of economic development and job creation to support any striving community, while ensuring our environment and natural resources and protected.
Q: What will you do to support the territory’s marginalized and struggling communities?
a. What would you propose to better support people dealing with mental illness, alcoholism, addiction, and homelessness?
b. How will you support immigrant communities?
I will continue to do what I have done in the 33rd and 34th Legislatures and that is to move legislation that improves the quality of life for all Virgin Islanders. We must develop our workforce and provide opportunities for Virgin Islanders to be productive members of society. I have also established a non-profit organization to provide support and what every way I can, whether it be through scholarship, youth development, women empowerment elderly support and more.
I will continue to move legislation that strengthens and improves systems that addresses supporting people dealing with mental illness, alcoholism, addiction and homelessness. Further we recognize that the government cannot do it all. As such we must continue to support those non-profit organizations that are on the front line combatting these issues.
Immigrant communities are supported in the same manner all other communities are supported, by moving legislation that improves the quality of life for all that reside in the territory.
Q: What can the government do to better assist and support seniors, as well as family members needing respite from caregiving?
Additional senior living and assisted living facilities must be developed in the territory. This means that we must develop public/private partnership to build these facilities. As this is done, we will have additional opportunities to have respite from caregiving. Additional support needs to be provided for the existing programs and to caregivers.
Q: What plans do you have to redevelop a framework for success for young people in the in the territory? This could include intervention services, education reform, and recreational facilities, among others.
a. What plans do you have to help our LGBTGIA+ youth?
b. Why should millennials vote for you?
As we rebuild our educational system by moving the construction and maintenance of our schools from under the department of education, educators can reprioritize student achievement. Additionally, if the executive branch implements the Virgin Islands Virtual Information System (VIVIS) in earnest we will be able to better track students and provide the necessary wrap around services to set them up for success.
My plans are for helping all youth in our community by encouraging them to be true to themselves and to ensure there are safe spaces in our community to provide support. Further, I remain laser focused on our youth this is why I have moved significant legislation to set our youth up for success i.e., Distance Learning, Vocational Education Expansion, Pre K-3 Certification Requirements, and continue to fight to remove school maintenance from the responsibility of our educational leaders so they can focus on student achievement.
Millennials should vote for me because I have four millennial children of my own and understand their needs and what they want to see in the future for the Virgin Islands. I have been deliberate about hiring millennials in my office and many of the legislation that I have passed successfully have been written by millennials. Further, I am open to their ideas and always make myself available to sit and listen to their voice.
Q: What plans do you have to reestablish the libraries in the territory?
As legislators we continue to fund the Department of Planning and Natural Resources so that libraries can be operational. The reestablishment of libraries is a function of the executive branch; however, I will continue to utilize oversight to advocate for libraries in the territory.
Q: How can we provide access to affordable healthcare for individuals and small businesses?
There is currently discussion on the table for affordable health care to all in the territory. I will continue to engage in the conversation until we can come up with a final solution to address this vexing issue. There are ongoing conversations with the government employee provider on how we can make this happen in a way that is affordable and inclusive.
Q: What possibilities are available for the professional or educational development of individuals within the territory so that we can continue to retain and attract a qualified workforce?
We have UVICELL that continue to offer professional and educational development courses. We must ensure that the courses offered are aligned with the job opportunities and then ensure that our residents are aware that the programs exist, and they attend. There is also an extensive workforce development program managed by the Department of Labor and the Workforce Development Board. I am currently looking into establishing the feasibility of establishing an