Senate fails to inform public of meetings


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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Legislature failed to inform the community of meetings to be held this week at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall on St. Thomas, but Legislature officials said they do not believe they violated the territory's open meetings law.

The V.I. Code states that: "Each agency shall maintain an up-to-date schedule of the meetings which are to be held by it or any subdivision thereof."

It also states that: "The schedule shall be available for public inspection during all the regular working hours of said agency."

The law does not make any distinctions about whether failure to follow the law must be intentional.

Typically, the Legislature notifies the community of upcoming meetings through its website, legvi.org, but the website was not fully functional this week.

On Tuesday, the link to the Senate weekly calendar - which gives information about committee meetings, such as what bills are being discussed and which testifiers have been scheduled to appear - still showed information from the week before Easter.

The calendar did not show any information about the Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice Committee meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning on St. Thomas, during which three crime-related bills were scheduled for committee action. The calendar also did not have any information about a meeting of the Committee of the Whole scheduled for Tuesday evening on St. Thomas, during which a number of zoning applications were to be discussed.

By Wednesday, the weekly calendar on the website had been updated.

"We apologize for the inconvenience and the delay to the public," Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said Wednesday.

Many Legislature staff did not know that the public had not been properly informed, including the senators, Malone said.

According to the Legislature's executive director, Iver Stridiron, a power surge and resulting Internet connection issues caused the Legislature staff to be unable to update the website.

Officials admitted that they should have better informed the public, but they provided no reason as to why they did not.

Stridiron said he intends to put into place a protocol for informing the public in the event that the website is not working to prevent a similar oversight from happening again.

Stridiron said that people could call the Legislature and request the calendar if the website was not working.

However, an email from The Daily News on Tuesday afternoon to Media specialist Saida Harrigan of the Legislature's Division of Public Affairs requesting a copy of the weekly calendar and the agenda for Tuesday night's Committee of the Whole meeting proved fruitless.

"I have not yet received these documents," she responded. "To the best of my knowledge the calendar is updated one week in advance, though you are correct it has not been updated since last week."

Senate Vice President Sammuel Sanes said that he was aware that the website had not been fully functional and that, as chairman of the Rules Committee, he decided to cancel his committee's Wednesday meeting because he wanted to make sure that everyone knew about it, which was not ensured given the issues of the website.

Sanes, despite his own concerns, did not feel that the lack of communication on behalf of the Legislature was a violation of the territory's open meetings law.

"It's not something we do on purpose," he said.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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