Residents from across St. John and St. Thomas packed the John’s Folly Learning Institute to hear from and pose questions to the gubernatorial candidate teams on Monday evening, September 18.
The forum, sponsored by the Coral Bay Community Council, focused on issues which affect Love City – from the need for an island planner to expanding health care services at Myrah Keating Smith Commun-ity Health Center.
Candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor John deJongh and Gregory Francis, who won the September Democratic primary election, Adlah “Foncie” Donastorg and Dr. Cora Christian and Kenneth Mapp and Almando “Rocky” Liburd, who are running as independent candidates, turned out for the much-anticipated debate on the island’s remote south shore.
The more than 250 people who attended the forum enjoyed snacks and refreshments before filling every seat in the community center and spilling out of both doors.
After making opening remarks, the candidates answered two Coral Bay-specific questions created by the CBCC – one regarding community pol-icing and the other relating to illegal dumping and excavation practices.
St. John needs its own police chief, according to Donastorg.
“We will put a police chief on the island, as part of an overall de-centralizing of government agencies,” Donastorg said. “There will be two police chiefs for the district instead of one territorial chief.”
Mapp, a former police officer, said he is committed to seeing a permanent V.I. Police Department substation built in Coral Bay.
“Modern police headquarters are essential components of solving crimes,” Mapp said. “The primary focus of the police department is to protect, serve, fight and prevent crime. We will be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.”
The VIPD needs more specialty officers, trained in specific fields like gang warfare and undercover work, Mapp added.
St. John’s police force is woefully understaffed, according to deJongh.
“St. John only has 36 officers on three shifts,” deJongh said. “The island needs at least 80 police officers in order to eliminate overtime issues. We must have a police presence to fight crime.”
Illegal construction takes place because of improperly trained V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources and Department of Labor personnel, Mapp added.
“We must ensure these departments have the funds they need in order to have effective staff and training,” Mapp said. “DPNR needs reorganization and inspectors who are trained to recognize unsafe and illegal activities, and who are committed to protecting the environment.”
DeJongh also called for increased DPNR funding.
“We must look at the enforcement component of DPNR,” deJongh said. “There is only one inspector on the island. We need to put revenues back in the department and see it properly staffed.”
People who engage in illegal construction activity should be fined, deJongh added.
“We must make the tough decisions to fine illegal construction,” he said. “These tough decisions have to be made. The decisions might not be popular, but will lead to better development in the long run.”
Donastorg, who sponsored the V.I. Clean Water Act, said he is an environmentalist.
“I am anti-exploitation and pro-people,” he said. “We must properly equip the St. John DPNR office and form a partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands to provide adequate training. We must show leadership and give DPNR the tools they need.”
Lorelei Monsanto, the first audience member to pose a question to the candidates, asked what they would do about upgrading health care services on St. John.
“Will you put someone in charge who actually lives on St. John?” she asked.
MKSCHC should apply for 501 c(3) status in order to be eligible for more than government funds, deJongh explained.
“We must go beyond local funding and focus on expanding services at Myrah Keating,” he said. “All of the health care services that are needed here should be met. It’s ridiculous that you can’t have a birth on St. John — health care must be addressed as a priority.”
Donastorg relinquished the question to his running mate Christian, who is a medical professional and used to serve as the V.I. Department of Health’s assistant commissioner.
“We must go back to regional centers,” she said. “Everything must be local before it becomes global. The expertise exists within me to fix the problems with health care here in the territory.”
The government is capable of providing more health services on all three islands, according to Mapp.
“It is unacceptable that you can’t get dialysis treatment on St. John,” he said. “We have the resources — it is not a capability issue. The government has doctors on the payroll who are getting paid $97,000 and don’t put in time at the local clinics.”
Health care facilities on all three islands must be retrofitted so that more services can be offered, Mapp added.
The Executive Director of The Safety Zone, Iris Kern, asked the candidates what they planned to do about the current domestic violence epidemic in the territory.
“We will look at the root causes,” said Donastorg. “We will offer stress management and wellness programs within government departments. We will also implement counseling programs so that first time offenders don’t become second time offenders.”
Government employees should be subjected to background checks before being hired, according to Mapp.
“We must know what is going on in each department of the government,” he said. “Background reviews are needed for all public employees. You don’t hire folks to run law enforcement who don’t understand the problems of violence and anger management.”
Anyone accused of sexual assault or domestic violence would not have a place in de-Jongh’s government, he said.
“If you’re accused of either, you can’t come into our administration,” the candidate for governor said. “We can’t condone those actions in any way. If you are accused of those things, you don’t belong in public office.”
Miss January, to loud applause from the audience, asked the candidates how they would increase road access to and from Coral Bay and if they would establish a health care facility in the area.
Road Access to Coral Bay
“The question of access is a real one that has confronted us for years,” said Liburd. “Everything works with time and now we can negotiate with the National Park, because we must have access. We never had the leadership to go straight to the park to talk.”
“Under our administration, we’ll have health care in Coral Bay and access,” he added.
Repairing roads that run through the V.I. National Park is essential, according to Francis.
“We must focus on infrastructure on this part of the island,” he said. “We have begun discussions about repairing roads that run through the park. We are going to make a difference.”
“We’ll identify problems and find solutions,” Francis added.
A regional health care system is needed, according to Chris-tian, who didn’t address the road access issue.
“You should get your services where you live,” she said.
All of the candidates agreed St. John needs a new public school.
St. John Public School
“Education must be de-centralized,” said deJongh. “We must move away from a commissioner in charge and have districts in charge. Schools need more authority.”
“We must come up with the resources to build a kindergarten through twelfth grade,” he continued. “It’s not a funding issue, it’s a matter of leadership and priority.”
Since his lieutenant governor running mate is a doctor, she can “cure the ills in the Department of Education,” said Donastorg.
“Many studies show that local schools produce better students,” said Christian. “The short answer is yes, we are prepared to build a school on St. John.”
It’s not fair that St. John students must wake up at 4 a.m. in order to catch a ferry to St. Thomas to make it to school on time, Mapp explained.
“This government has the ability to finance a school,” Mapp said. “We will commit to building a school on St. John.”
Each of the candidates gave closing remarks in which they listed the qualifications that would make them be effective governors of the Virgin Islands.
Challenge Status Quo
“I will challenge the status quo and make sure corruption will change,” said Donastorg. “You don’t talk about progress, it speaks for itself. After being a good senator, come January, I’ll be a better governor.”
“I want to form a coalition of Virgin Islanders who are seeking a better life,” said Mapp. “Our critical challenges are safety and security. We will not be able to raise families in an environment of crime and violence.”
“It’s time we have a high school on St. John and it’s time we address property taxes,” said deJongh. “The norm is not acceptable anymore. Government is about management and the ability to provide a better life for you, your children and seniors.”