30th Legislature leadership Senators pledge 30th Legislature will be different

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ST. THOMAS - Revitalization, renewal and rebirth were major themes Monday during the swearing-in ceremony and first session of the 30th Legislature.

With seven brand new faces in the 30th Legislature, the body as a whole seemed ready to leave the tumultuous 29th Legislature behind and start anew.

Senators said they were willing to work together and wanted this term to be different from previous terms, with more transparency and less dysfunction.

The morning began with an invitation-only ecumenical church service at Frederick Lutheran Evangelical Church, followed by the swearing-in ceremony in Emancipation Garden.

The ceremony was filled with prayer, song and entertainment.

V.I. Supervisor of Elections John Abramson Jr. read the certification of the election, and V.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Rhys Hodge administered the oath to all 15 senators.

Dionne Pickering-Simmonds was mistress of ceremonies and told senators to expect to be challenged in the coming term. She urged them to "lose the big-shot persona" and "deflate the big head" in an effort to get back to what public service is really about - serving the people.

"Don't just lead, lead well," she said.

After the ceremony, the senators, their families and supporters walked across the street to the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall to convene the first session of the 30th Legislature.

New Majority Leader Donald Cole made a motion to adopt the organizing resolution and the rules for the new term. It passed with the 10-member Democratic majority voting in favor of the resolution: Senators Craig Barshinger, Cole, Diane Capehart, Kenneth Gittens, Clifford Graham, Myron Jackson, Shawn-Michael Malone, Clarence Payne, Sammuel Sanes and Janette Millin Young.

Senators Judi Buckley, Alicia Hansen, Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly and Tregenza Roach all voted against the bill.

Sen. Terrence Nelson abstained from the vote.

Sanes, who had opened the session as the temporary Senate president, passed the gavel to Malone, the incoming Senate president, and the session continued.

Malone said he takes the title of Senate president with great enthusiasm.

"It is clearly a mandate of this community, and God, to start a new direction," Malone said.

Malone allowed each senator three minutes to thank their families and supporters and say a few words to their constituents about the coming term.

Nelson said it was an "ugly" campaign, but now that the voters have spoken, it is time to get to work, and he looks forward to a fresh start.

He had some words of caution for the seven freshman senators: "It's easy to say get the incumbents out, but after today, you're all incumbents."

Buckley said all 15 members of the 30th Legislature have the same goals - to help the Virgin Islands - they just might go about achieving the goals a little differently.

"I promise you honesty, integrity and transparency," she said.

Rivera-O'Reilly said she is happy to see so many women in the body, and she started out by apologizing if she offended anyone during the campaign season.

"I look forward to extending an olive branch and working with my colleagues," she said.

She said the mandate given to all of them by the voters is to work together.

Roach said it has been a tough time, his father and his aunt both died in the last week. They both inspired him to be a force for positive change no matter where you make your home, he said.

Roach, who is the only independent senator in the St. Thomas-St. John District, said he was hearing a lot of talk about doing things differently, yet he was only presented a copy of the rules of the 30th Legislature minutes before the vote. Not having time to read through the 92-page document, he did not feel comfortable supporting it.

Hansen ran over her time thanking her family and supporters, but Payne, the next speaker, gave her 30 seconds of his time to finish. When it was his turn, he joked about what he had done.

"I'm sure I'm going to be needing that favor in the not-to-distant future," he said.

Payne also addressed the public and encouraged them to fully participate in the coming legislative term.

"The Virgin Islands government is your government, it's not the 15 of us. This is your house, and you're welcome," Payne said.

Barshinger said his top priority is the territory's energy crisis and finding relief for electricity consumers.

He also talked about the new rules, saying they are totally revamped and a far cry from the "boiler plate" rules adopted in prior terms. He said one of the key items in the new rules is a policy to publish the senators' travel and other expenses quarterly on the Legislature's website.

It was a bittersweet day for Gittens, as his mother died about a week ago. He had a photo of her and a single white rose on his desk to honor her memory.

He said he will feverishly work with all of his colleagues on the major issues facing the territory: energy, the economy and education.

Jackson recounted running through the halls of the Legislature as a child, coming to visit his father, not knowing that one day he would be elected to serve in the very same building.

"We will take care of the public's trust," he said.

Capehart said the community is looking for leadership, and she knows the new group of senators will work together collectively to solve the territory's problems.

Graham urged his colleagues to always do what is right for the people of the territory, even if it is not the right political move.

Cole thanked his family and supporters and got a bit emotional when talking about the long, hard campaign trail.

"It was a rough journey, thank you for putting me back," he said.

Young said she has gotten criticism from supporters for giving up her Education, Youth and Culture Committee chairmanship in favor of chairing the new Economic Development Committee.

"I won't forget education," she promised.

Sanes also thanked his late father for being an inspiration and acknowledged the rest of his family for being his support.

Malone closed the session with his own remarks, saying that now is a time for action. The Virgin Islands must find its place in the world and be able to compete and succeed on a global level, he said.

The 30th Legislature will be a new beginning and a chance for the institution to revive the community's trust and confidence, Malone said.

"Here at the Legislature, we will be creating and adopting an internal ethics policy. I'm committed to ending any opportunity for abuse of the public's trust," the new Senate president said. "In addition to improving accountability and transparency, we as a majority are committed to addressing GERS, our elections system, WAPA, economic expansion, workforce development, education, crime and the needs of the elderly."

He said he wants the body to lead by example, and the public will be seeing many changes in the way the Legislature operates.

"I know we have what it takes to get the job done," Malone said.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

President: Shawn-Michael Malone

Vice President: Sammuel Sanes

Secretary: Janette Millin Young

Majority Leader: Donald Cole

Secretary for Intergovernmental and Territorial Affairs: Diane Capehart

Liasion to the U.S. Congress: Clarence Payne

Liasion to the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Insular Affairs: Myron Jackson

Liasion to the White House: Kenneth Gittens

Committee of the Whole Chairman: Shawn-Michael Malone

Rules and Judiciary Committee Chairman: Sammuel Sanes

Health, Hospitals, Human Services and Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman: Clarence Payne

Finance Committee Chairman: Clifford Graham

Education and Workforce Development Committee Chairman: Donald Cole

Housing, Government Services Committee Chairwoman: Diane Capehart

Culture, Historic Preservation, Youth and Recreation Committee Chairman: Myron Jackson

Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice Committee Chairman: Kenneth Gittens

Energy and Environmental Protection Committee Chairman: Craig Barshinger

Economic Development, Agriculture and Planning Committee Chairwoman: Janette Millin Young

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