Sen. Neville James: $38,000 spent in 16 trips since 2009
Published: October 31, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - According to the records turned over to The Daily News by the V.I. Legislature, Sen. Neville James has taken 16 trips since 2009, spending just more than $38,000 of taxpayers' money.
James told The Daily News on Tuesday that his travel as a senator has helped him form legislation, make policy decisions and build key relationships.
Travel records for James only go back to 2009. However, James was elected to the Senate in 2005, and he said he took many trips between 2005 and 2009.
When the business office went into storage to pull the travel records for all senators going back to 2005, only a few files were found. In a December 2011 audit report of the Legislature, auditors from the federal and local governments noted that files seemed to be missing.
The travel records for James are confusing and are not very organized.
James said that he would get a cash advance for a trip, then not take that trip, instead applying the advance as a credit toward a future trip. That was a common practice in the 26th, 27th and 28th Legislatures, he said.
The travel policies changed halfway through 28th Legislature - once the auditors began to look at travel records for the senators, James said.
Senators used to submit all receipts for food and beverages and were reimbursed accordingly, according to James. In the 28th Legislature, each senator would receive a per diem of $100 for each day of travel to cover all food and beverage expenses.
Before the switch, the food receipts James submitted were primarily for fast food or inexpensive restaurants such as Denny's, according to James' travel records. His food receipts also show that he did not order alcoholic beverages.
"I'm not an abuser," he said. "I try my best to be as responsible as possible."
James also said he tries to get government rates for his hotel rooms, so that less money is spent.
James attended the annual Seatrade Cruise Shipping Conference in Miami in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
In 2009, he coupled the trip with another business trip to California to visit a wind farm. He requested and received a $4,000 cash advance for the two trips. He ended up spending $3,213.44 on the combined trip.
In 2010, he spent $2,633.77 to attend Seatrade, and in 2011 he spent $2,643.58 to attend the convention.
James said Seatrade is an important conference to attend, particularly in 2009 when the cruise ships had only begun coming back to St. Croix the year before.
"Seatrade is not just the junket that everyone thinks it is," he said.
He was chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee in the 26th Legislature, and he said he had developed a relationship with several cruise industry leaders.
As for the wind farm, the travel records provided by the Legislature do not show how much of the $3,213.44 was spent on Seatrade and how much was spent on the California trip.
"I was trying to find out if in fact wind energy is a viable energy source here on St. Croix," James said.
James said the windmill farm was an educational experience, and he found that California has two advantages that St. Croix does not. First, the wind farm is about 600 feet above sea level. Second, the farm is situated between two mountain ranges, creating a wind tunnel effect. However, James said he believes that Hamm's Bluff on St. Croix may be a suitable location for wind energy.
Council of State Governments
When James was a freshman senator in 2005, Senate President Lorraine Berry picked him and Sen. Terrence Nelson, another freshman legislator, to be the first V.I. representatives at the Council of State Governments Eastern Regional Conference Leadership Academy.
Ever since, James has been active in the organization - of which the V.I. Legislature is a member.
For six years, he has served on the executive committee of the Eastern Regional Conference, and he said he makes it a point to attend as many of the group's meetings as he can.
During a three-year period, James attended seven meetings of the Council of State Governments.
- CSG annual meeting, Aug. 2-5, 2009, in Burlington, Vt. Cost: $1,853.
- CSG/ERC executive committee meeting, Dec. 4-5, 2009, in New York, N.Y. Cost: $1,620.94.
- CSG annual conference Nov. 12-15, 2009, in La Quinta, Calif. Cost: $2,926.66.
- CSG/ERC spring committee meeting Aug. 15-18, 2010, in Portland, Maine. Cost: $1,550.
- CSG annual meeting Dec. 3-6, 2010, in Providence, R.I. Cost: $1,221.96.
- CSG/ERC annual meeting and regional policy forum, Aug. 5-10, 2011, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Cost: $3,800.
- CSG national conference Oct. 18-23, 2011, in Bellevue, Wash. Cost: $2,990.
He and other Virgin Islands senators got a resolution passed at the Halifax meeting in 2011 that acknowledged the territory's energy crisis.
"That was one of the most productive meetings that we had," he said.
Obama inauguration, 2009
James was one of many V.I. senators to use taxpayer money to make the trip to Washington, D.C., for President Barack Obama's inauguration in January 2009. He spent $3,928.26.
Senators did not get their cash advances until about one week before, which made booking the trips more expensive and difficult, James said.
He defended taking the trip at the taxpayers' expense, saying that it was a historic event and that it was important for the territory to be represented.
"For historical purposes, we were looking at situation where America was inaugurating its first black president," James said.
"A lot of elected officials from all over the country and all over the world was there for the inauguration," James said. "I believe that representation from V.I. officials was in order."
From Dec. 1-3, 2010, James attended the Caribbean and Central America Miami Conference for a total cost of $972.84.
He said the Senate always tries to have a presence at the annual meeting, and that year he was the sole representative. He said the meeting is for leaders in the Caribbean region and is an important networking opportunity.
New York, 2010
James traveled to New York from July 15-20, 2010, to meet with Segal Advisors, the company that was managing the V.I. Government Employees Retirement System portfolio at the time.
The trip cost $1,623.03.
"They made financial information available for me," he said.
At the time of the trip, James was the chairman of the Senate Financial Services Committee, which had oversight of GERS.
He said that what he learned on that trip later was translated into a series of reforms that he put into legislation currently pending in committee.
"We're looking at adopting that sometime soon," he said. "Some of those measures in committee right now came out of the recommendations that Segal has made to us over the years."
June 4-8, 2011 James attended the International Economic Development Council Spring Conference in Indianapolis, Ind. The trip cost $2,763.90.
He said he was a member of the Senate's Economic Development Committee and had been to the conference in 2006.
The conference covered research and technology, developing cargo port facilities and e-commerce. He said those topics are appropriate to developing the economy of St. Croix. The Research and Technology Park is on St. Croix, and the government has been looking for ways to develop the cargo port at the Renaissance property on the south shore.
"That was a very helpful meeting to me," he said.
Washington, D.C., 2011
Next Generation Leadership - the minority caucus that includes James, Nelson and Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly - went to Washington, D.C., to meet with a number of federal agency heads.
The trip was from Oct. 23-26, 2011, and James spent $1,177.53.
He combined the trip with his trip to Bellevue, Wash., for a Council of State Governments meeting, which reduced the amount spent on airfare, he said.
The group of senators met with the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Commerce - which oversees the territory's broadband initiative - the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Justice Department.
James said the meeting with the U.S. Justice Department was to share concerns about the territory's election system, and it has resulted in a U.S. attorney being assigned to monitor the elections.
At the Department of Energy they discussed natural gas as an alternative to fuel oil for the territory's power production, he said.
"To me that was a productive meeting," he said. "We came back and held a press conference and reported what we did."
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email email@example.com.