Elections Board meeting set for early Sunday

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ST. CROIX - The Joint Board of Elections met in a special meeting Thursday and recessed to reconvene the meeting at 7:30 a.m. Sunday at the secluded Carambola Beach Resort.

Although the V.I. Code does not specify that public meetings must take place during specific hours, the early hour on a weekend day and remote location for the continued Joint Board meeting likely will discourage any public participation.

Joint Board Chairperson Alicia Wells said the board will conduct its three-day Educational Advance and Workshops today through Sunday and decided to hold the meeting as a working breakfast meeting at the end of the weekend so that they can discuss and take action on any issues that arise over the course of the three days.

"We will be meeting just between 7:30 and 8:45 a.m. because I have a morning flight, so it won't go much later than that," Wells said.

During the meeting Thursday, board member Wilma Marsh-Monsanto made a motion asking that the body undertake discussion for the purpose of scheduling an evidentiary hearing pertaining to the formulation and imposition of sanctions against Wells, member Arturo Watlington Jr., Sharon Benjamin and former Supervisor of the Elections John Abramson Jr. for what she called their willful roles in obstructing access and review of the public election records.

Marsh-Monsanto said the acts were perpetrated in contravention to the public records laws of the territory.

Her motion received a second from St. Croix District Board Vice Chairwoman Lillian Belardo de O'Neal but failed after receiving only three votes - from Marsh-Monsanto, Belardo de O'Neal and Roland Moolenaar.

Last month, the V.I. Superior Court ruled that the public must be allowed to review tally sheets from the last election as a result of a court action brought against the board.

Also during Thursday's meeting, Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes, in her report to the board, discussed progress that is being made as a result of the audit report submitted by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission last month.

She said in keeping with mandates outlined by the audit, inventory of the Elections System's property was made during the last few weeks and was completed on Nov. 30.

Fawkes said they have determined what items are no longer of use to the system and are reviewing the disposal procedure and federal guidelines so that they can dispose of items they no longer need in each district.

Fawkes said she was saddened by having to report to the board that $100,000 of federal grant funds had to be returned unused because the time to use it had expired. She said it was funding that was designated for use to create programs for the elderly and disabled, but that had not been done on time.

"Turning over these federal dollars seems to be something that continues to be a problem in the territory," she said. "We write these great grants, are awarded the money and then don't do anything with it, and that has to stop."

Fawkes said there are more grant funds in 2014 that need to be spent, and better care must be taken so that they, too, do not expire.

Board member Raymond Williams said the board had acted by doing the preliminary work that needed to be done for the programs that would utilize the grant money, but former Deputy Supervisor of Elections James Webber III did not see the matter through to the next step.

Fawkes said she has received a number of applications from people wanting to serve on the State Planning Committee for the Elections System.

"People really came out and applied for this committee," she said. "These are the ones who turned out because they want to be a part of making the process better."

She also highlighted the Clean Up Hitters non-profit organization headed by Paul Lockhart Jr., who she said has reached out to the system saying that they are pushing the V.I. Stand Up and Vote 2014 campaign, which is geared toward educating the public on their right to vote, the importance of voting and the consequences if they do not vote.

The group has planned an election activity for 3 p.m. Jan. 19 at D.C. Canegata Ball Park voter to share election information and conduct voter registration, Fawkes said.

The board members on Thursday also discussed the revised election calendar for the coming primary and General elections and unanimously approved a motion to adopt the 2014 calendar consistent to Act 7565.

Watlington, the St. Thomas-St. John District Board chairman, and Belardo de O'Neal both gave updates about action and discussion taken in their most recent district meetings.

According to the meeting agenda, when the board meets this weekend they will discuss updates and revision of the board's bylaws and discussion on Title 18 reform measures.

Absent from Thursday's meeting were members Lawrence Boschulte, Adelbert Bryan and Lisa Harris-Moorhead.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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