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Committee Endorses One Public Services Commission Nominee and Rejects Another



The Senate Committee on Rules and Judiciary convened on Thursday to review, among other items, two pivotal nominations for the Public Services Commission (PSC)—the esteemed body responsible for overseeing utility providers in the territory.

Sandra Setorie’s Confirmation

The lawmakers evaluated Sandra Setorie for the position of PSC executive director. If confirmed, Ms. Setorie, who joined the agency in April 1996 as the PSC’s administrative official on St. Croix, would ascend to lead the commission.

Ms. Setorie, in establishing her qualifications, mentioned her affiliation with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions and her scholarly accomplishments at the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University, where she completed a specialized regulatory studies program.

Ms. Setorie emphasized her firsthand experience with the utility issues plaguing the Virgin Islands, citing her own encounters with subpar service, escalating bills, and occasionally, unjust practices. This intimate knowledge, she conveyed, reinforces her resolve to effect change, advocating strenuously for optimal representation for the Virgin Islands’ citizens and offering an internal view of the commission’s transformative endeavors.

Ms. Setorie, highlighting her adaptability and resilience, mentioned having obtained three university degrees while maintaining full-time employment and bringing up her children. She articulated her vision as a transformative leader for the PSC, aiming to enhance productivity through technological advancements and meet community needs by balancing growth and fortifying resilience.

Laura Nichols-Samms’s Consideration

Simultaneously, Laura Nichols-Samms, a St. John resident, was under consideration for a role on the PSC Board of Commissioners. Ms. Nichols-Samms emphasized the pivotal role of utility companies in community life and expressed her advocacy for modernization and clean energy initiatives.

Ms. Nichols-Samms, with a rich business background, highlighted her self-employment experience during her 26-year residency in the Virgin Islands. Lawmakers probed her technical acumen, to which she responded with confidence in acquiring the necessary knowledge through PSC-provided training and emphasized her enthusiasm for learning.

However, her academic background was scrutinized against the stringent criteria legislated for PSC appointments, requiring expertise in fields such as engineering, economics, finance, and law. Ms. Nichols-Samms defended her credentials, citing her business management degree and her commitment to staying informed on PSC activities.

Voting Outcome

Ms. Setorie’s nomination received a favorable outcome, but Ms. Nichols-Samms encountered opposition, with a majority vote against her nomination. Senator Angel Bolques Jr. questioned the procedural correctness of the voting, leading to a recess and a subsequent motion by Senator Kenneth Gittens to reject Ms. Nichols-Samms’s nomination, which passed with a 3-2 margin.

The committee’s decisions, endorsing Ms. Setorie and dismissing Ms. Nichols-Samms, will proceed to the full Senate body for additional deliberation.

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Extensive Efforts and Over $1 Million Expenditure in Bovoni Landfill Fire Mitigation Detailed to Lawmakers



In a detailed briefing on Wednesday, lawmakers were informed about the extensive multi-agency response to the prolonged Bovoni Landfill fire that occurred in September. Daryl Jaschen, the V.I. Territorial Management Agency Director, represented various government bodies in his testimony.

Jaschen highlighted the unified command’s rigorous efforts, which met bi-daily until October 4, utilizing over 1.85 million gallons of water amidst challenging dry conditions at the landfill. He emphasized the crucial support from Puerto Rico’s National Guard, facilitated by an Emergency Management Assistance Compact, for which $74,000 will be reimbursed. This amount is additional to the over $1 million expended locally on the response.

Furthermore, Jaschen shed light on the qualitative data collection during the firefighting operations, aimed at providing vital information on health conditions, safety, clean water access, and evacuation procedures. This data was pivotal for the V.I. Department of Health’s educational campaigns on health risks from smoke and pollutants. Plans for a townhall meeting by VIFEMS, VITEMA, and the Department of Health were disclosed, focusing on using this data to identify community priorities and solutions.

Preventative measures were also discussed. Since October 1, approximately 22,500 cubic yards of green waste have been relocated within the landfill. An ongoing effort involves covering this area with over 30,000 cubic yards of material to avert future fires. The landfill has resumed normal operations, albeit with a temporary suspension in accepting green waste.

The Waste Management Authority plans to utilize a recent $6 million grant for developing territory-wide standard operating procedures for waste management. Jaschen also paid homage to the late Daryl George, former VIFEMS director, for his significant role in the emergency response and coordination efforts.

The committee, chaired by Senator Ray Fonseca, delved into the operational challenges faced, such as the distance of the nearest fire hydrant from the landfill. St. John Deputy Fire Chief Magabe Calixte mentioned ongoing discussions with multiple stakeholders to improve firefighting infrastructure. There were also mentions of alternative water sources for firefighting, ensuring safety from contamination.

Concerns were raised by VIFEMS about outstanding payments to local water haulers, despite legislative support for their compensation. This prompted critical remarks from Senators Milton Potter and Donna Frett-Gregory, with Frett-Gregory particularly questioning the Waste Management Authority’s absence and lack of a clear strategy for green waste management.

Sen. Fonseca urged VIFEMS to formulate a comprehensive plan for the committee’s review and funding, highlighting the urgency of addressing these challenges independently of the already burdened WAPA.

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Uncertainty in Budget Preparedness and Vendor Payment Issues Addressed by Finance Commissioner Nominee



Kevin McCurdy, the nominee for Commissioner of the Department of Finance, expressed uncertainty about the readiness of Fiscal Year 2024 budgets for various government departments and agencies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Rules and Judiciary.

When Senator Donna Frett-Gregory questioned the status of Fiscal Year 2024 budgets, asking if they were “loaded and available for the departments and agencies to expend, obligate etc.,” Mr. McCurdy initially referred the question to the Office of Management and Budget. However, he later admitted, “I can’t say that with 100 percent certainty. I just don’t want to lie to you and say yes.” Senator Frett-Gregory, not satisfied with his response, emphasized the importance of this knowledge.

The hearing also delved into the Department of Finance’s ongoing challenges, especially concerning vendor payments and cash flow management. Mr. McCurdy, in a conversation with Senator Angel Bolques Jr., acknowledged the critical need to address the delays in vendor payments, saying, “It’s not lost on me…we need to find a way to better manage our cash and reduce that long lag time in getting vendor payments out.”

A significant issue identified by Mr. McCurdy was the mismatch between seasonal collections and consistent bill obligations. This challenge was highlighted in response to Senator Kenneth Gittens’s concerns about reports of undelivered checks to vendors. Mr. McCurdy suggested that these delays could be connected to the procedures for federal funds disbursement.

When Senator Carla Joseph asked about specific strategies for resolving the longstanding issue of delayed vendor payments, Mr. McCurdy mentioned ongoing discussions with banking partners to balance cash inflows and outflows, though no final solution had been confirmed.

Mr. McCurdy emphasized the need for greater adherence to policies and procedures within the Department of Finance, noting the community’s tendency to sometimes overlook established protocols.

The urgency of these budgetary and financial management issues was underscored by recent events, including layoffs at the V.I. Dept. of Tourism, attributed to the unavailability of its fiscal year 2024 budget. This situation is not isolated to the D.O.T., as several departments and agencies are reportedly still awaiting their 2024 budget allocations, three months into the new fiscal year, based on information from government officials.

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Court Rejects Legislative Inquiry into Judge’s Term, Sanctions Threatened for Frivolous Motions



Presiding Judge Renée Gumbs Carty, in a concise ruling, dismissed a motion from defendants in the lawsuit brought by former Senator Steven Payne against the 34th Legislature and its President, Senator Donna Frett-Gregory. The motion, filed on November 22, raised questions about a gap in Judge Gumbs Carty’s appointment—from the end of her official term on November 30, 2022, until her May 15, 2023, appointment as Senior Sitting Judge of the Superior Court.

The defense’s motion sought clarity on the judge’s authority to preside during this interim period. Additionally, a second motion requested a temporary pause in court proceedings for 10 days following the judge’s response.

Judge Gumbs Carty firmly rejected both motions on Thursday. She criticized the defense’s legal strategy, labeling the motions as frivolous and an attempt to undermine the Rules of Civil Procedure by causing unnecessary delays and distractions. The judge sternly warned that any further such motions could lead to a “show cause” hearing, where the attorneys would need to justify their actions to avoid sanctions.

With these motions set aside, the focus shifts back to the upcoming bench trial, scheduled for March 14, 2024. The trial’s timeline remains fixed, barring any new developments or filings that might prompt a reassessment.

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