Search's first day yields results
Published: October 27, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - Armed with two photocopiers, reams of Xerox paper, and a court order, Daily News reporters showed up at the V.I. Legislature Friday morning to access long-awaited public documents.
They were met with full cooperation by the Legislature's Business Director Ava Penn and her staff.
"Despite the long delay, we're grateful and reassured by the gracious reception we received from Ms. Penn and her staff, who went out of their way to provide The Daily News with the requested documents. Access to these documents will provide the Virgin Islands community with detailed information about how their taxpayer dollars were spent," Daily News Executive Editor J. Lowe Davis said.
After 10 months of fighting for access to the Senate's records on travel expenses and cash advances - among other expenditures - the V.I. Legislature came to an agreement with the newspaper Thursday to allow reporters full access to the previously withheld public documents.
According to the Stipulation Order issued Thursday by V.I. Superior Court Presiding Judge Darryl Donohue Sr., the Legislature was required to immediately release the requested public documents and make them available to the newspaper or face penalties imposed by the court.
The Daily News first requested a series of public documents relating to the expenses and cash advances for senators in the 26th, 27th, 28th and 29th Legislatures on Dec. 14.
The request was made shortly after the release of a joint audit by the V.I. Inspector General's Office and the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of the Interior. The audit described "highly questionable practices" involving the management of public funds that resulted in more than $6.9 million of lost revenue, unnecessary expenses and unsupported costs.
Since the initial request was made, additional letters were submitted to Senate President Ronald Russell seeking information on capital project spending and all documents provided to federal agencies or the V.I. Inspector General.
For more than six hours, reporters copied documents Friday, leaving at the end of the day with two large boxes filled with thousands of papers.
Travel records and cash advances for the 28th and 29th Legislatures - comprising documents from 2009 to 2012 - were copied. The records contain expenses for senators and their staff members, including receipts for restaurants, dry cleaning, rental cars, taxis, hotels, airline tickets and other expenditures.
The documents copied Friday also included records of cash advances for trips, along with copies of personal checks from senators repaying the Legislature if their justified expenses did not total the cash advance.
A Legislature staff member took time from his vacation Friday to retrieve a number of boxes from storage containing travel records from the 26th and 27th Legislatures. However, reporters did not have time to copy those records Friday.
Daily News reporters also reviewed records for capital projects on Friday. Copies of purchase orders, invoices, and contracts were made for part of Fiscal Year 2009 and Fiscal Year 2010.
Penn said the business office did not have similar documents for FY 2011 and FY 2012.
Copying will resume Monday morning, and will continue through the week if necessary.
Documents that The Daily News will be looking for next week include:
- All Legislature documents provided in response to any request by any agency or department of the federal government in calendar year 2012.
- All Legislature documents provided in response to any request by the V.I. Office of the Inspector General in calendar year 2012.
- Documents for all renovations, repairs or capital improvements during the 26th, 27th, 28th and 29th Legislatures, including invitations for bids, requests for proposals or qualifications, responses to bids, contracts, invoices, and pay vouchers.
- Cash advances and travel expenses for the 26th and 27th Legislatures.
- Requests or instructions given to any senators or their staffs regarding missing travel documentation or any outstanding balance owed to the Legislature.
- Any responses from senators or staff regarding missing travel documentation or money owed.
- All expenses associated with the Senate's closed-door meetings in December 2011 and January 2012, including food and beverages, meeting room space, hotel accommodations, transportation, and per diems paid to senators and staff.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.