Police again called to settle Elections Board meeting disputes
Published: October 11, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections broke down Thursday afternoon into a chaotic melee, spurring police intervention for the second time in as many months.
St. Thomas Deputy Police Chief Dwayne DeGraff, a detective and three police officers came to the Elections office in Lockhart Gardens when the board attempted to go into executive session and board member Wilma Marsh-Monsanto, as well as three of her supporters, refused to leave the room.
Ultimately, after about 90 minutes, the board took no official actions.
Thursday's events echo the Sept. 10 meeting in which Marsh-Monsanto, whom other board members said they suspended for two meetings in a motion made at a July 11 meeting, also refused to cede to what she terms an illegal attack on her as an elected official until police responded and took a report from her.
However, unlike during the September meeting, board Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr., after police were called, conducted a brief executive session without ejecting Marsh-Monsanto or members of the public.
The purpose of going into executive session Thursday, Watlington announced, was to discuss the salary of newly designated St. Thomas Deputy Supervisor of Elections Nefrediezha Barbel. No action on the matter was taken during the session.
Marsh-Monsanto's supporters objected that the board had not voted on the motion to go into executive session and that it was therefore illegal under parliamentary procedural rules, and they protested by continuing to sit in chairs at the back of the room.
Almost nothing in terms of official elections business was accomplished Thursday. The agenda was light and consisted of matters for discussion, not action items.
After police arrived Thursday, there was discrepancy as to who called them to rein in the raucous meeting.
Lt. Elton Grant, who was the first officer to respond, said upon entering the board's conference room that Marsh-Monsanto had called police.
After taking a report from Watlington, DeGraff said, "As far as I am concerned, nothing happened here today. Arturo Watlington called us to assist with a meeting, but the meeting was already adjourned when we arrived."
The call would be classified as police assistance, the same as the one in September. Neither this call nor the one in September had become the basis for an investigation, he said.
Regarding the increasingly hostile and disruptive atmosphere at the Board of Elections meetings, DeGraff said: "It is a concern, but there is nothing we can do about it."
On Thursday, board members Lawrence Boschulte, Alecia Wells, Lydia Hendricks, Harry Daniel and Watlington made a determined effort for more than an hour to hold discourse about consolidation of polling sites; a potential malfunction with a new DS 200 tabulating machine; a proposed site-visit to non-ADA compliant polling sites; and the possible revision of the board's 2005 governance policy.
The board informally decided to do site-visits Oct. 17 at the Wynston Raymo Recreational Center, Leonard Dober Elementary School, Joseph Sibilly Elementary School and Joseph Gomez Elementary School.
Watlington mentioned that a DS 200 tabulating machine may be malfunctioning because the battery could have been run down after someone left the machine on following a Sept. 20 National Voter Registration day demonstration.
Regarding the malfunctioning voting machine, Watlington would not answer questions about it.
"Is that news? Why is that news?" he asked.
Also during the meeting, Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes explained how eight additional DS 200 tabulating machines would be distributed across voting districts. The board authorized the purchase of the eight new machines because it wants them as back-ups during the next election for the 43 purchased machines that already have been purchased.
Marsh-Monsanto objected to the proceedings and called for points of order that largely were ignored by other board members. At one point, she got up and held up a sign displaying her convictions that her due process rights had been violated by the suspension. She also made a motion that the board discuss "death threats" she accused Watlington of making toward her.
In letters to Fawkes and V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer, Marsh-Monsanto accuses Watlington of trying to threaten her life through cryptic comments during and after an Oct. 3 Joint Board of Elections meeting on St. Croix.
The letters cite Watlington's response to a motion made by St. Croix district board Chairman Adelbert Bryan at the Oct. 3 meeting: " 'I don't see how this could be a proper motion,' Watlington said. 'Five of us could die ... Why are we arguing this kind of stupidness? Things gonna happen.' "
The letter also says that Watlington offered Marsh-Monsanto a ride and said "he knew a place where there was 'soft dirt.' "
In addition to being a board member, Marsh-Monsanto is also part of a group of citizens and former candidates who filed lawsuits challenging the certified results of the November 2012 election, claiming fraud, vote-rigging and irregularities in records keeping since the election.
The group claims that some candidates had their rightful victories stolen from them by the misplacing of several hundred absentee ballot votes by Elections staff.
Watlington shrugged off the accusation of death threats Wednesday.
"What death threats?" Watlington said prior to the meeting. "I have credibility in this community."
Frazer said he had not been in his St. Thomas office Thursday and had not yet seen Marsh-Monsanto's letter, so he could not comment on the merits of the allegations.
However, he did address other aspects of the chaos surrounding the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections board meetings.
"They are elected by the people of the Virgin Islands. Their inability to get their work done is bad," Frazer said. "It's unfortunate."
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email email@example.com.