Elections supervisor, board clash over hiring

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ST. THOMAS - The St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections chairman is butting heads with the supervisor of Elections over the hiring of an administrative assistant for the board.

Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes said the board voted and Rose Marie Berry was the successful candidate.

Board chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. said the vote taken by secret ballot was not a real vote and was simply intended to gauge the most popular candidate. He said the board would have to take a real vote at the next district board meeting and determine the salary for the selected person.

Interview process

Watlington said the board formed a subcommittee to search for a new administrative assistant after Sharon Benjamin resigned from the position in December.

Each member wanted to be involved with the process, so everyone was included in the subcommittee.

"The only problem with the subcommittee, everybody decided they wanted a vote on it," board member Lawrence Boschulte said.

Each member reviewed the resumes that came in and picked a person they wanted the board to interview, Watlington said.

Some candidates withdrew their applications or did not show up to the interview, so the board ended up meeting with five people.

Watlington said the board met to determine how to proceed and decided to ask Fawkes to collect ballots from the board members.

"We said we'll give our selections to Ms. Fawkes to compile the results, and that's when the trouble started," Watlington said. "The goal was for her to report it back to us. She doesn't have anything to do with hiring the administrative assistant for us."

The vote

Under the V.I. Code, if a public board has a quorum and takes action, it must be done in a meeting that is open to the public and has been previously announced.

Watlington said in this instance, the board did not violate the law because it was not a binding vote, it was merely a poll of the board.

Board members had a deadline - noon on Thursday - to turn in their votes to Fawkes.

Watlington turned in his own vote, a proxy vote for Lawrence Boschulte and a sealed envelope Harry Daniel gave him to turn in, according to Watlington.

Fawkes sent Watlington a text message saying Berry had received a majority of votes, and indicated six board members had voted, Watlington said.

"So I asked who didn't vote, and she said Harry Daniel didn't vote, and I thought that was strange because I took in his envelope," Watlington said.

Fawkes said she did not count Daniel's vote because it was not written in his handwriting and the board does not have a policy for taking proxy votes.

"We don't have a proxy vote, it's not in our rules and regulations," board member Wilma Marsh-Monsanto said.

Who hires for the board?

Watlington said hiring the administrative assistant for the board is a board decision, and a legal opinion from the V.I. Attorney General supports that position.

Fawkes said the last administrative assistant to the board was hired by the supervisor and the board was dragging its feet, leaving the much needed position empty for months as the election creeps closer.

Boschulte said if Fawkes needs help and wants to hire Berry to work for the Elections System and pay her from the supervisor's budget, she can do that.

"But, she doesn't have any right to hire under the board's budget," Boschulte said.

"The only thing that this does is again put the board back in the light of being in controversy," Watlington said.

The board's next district meeting is scheduled for April 24.

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

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