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VI Crisis Spawns New Transparency

In what some would consider a breath of fresh air, policy makers from the Virgin Islands 29th Legislature reached out to community stakeholders on Monday, March 5th to solicit input and support for a draft bill intended to revise the tax structure around importing gasoline products into the territory. The bill, sponsored by Senator Carlton Dowe and thirteen other senators, came on the heels of the Hovensa Oil Refinery closure announcement. The news, released in mid-January, has created waves of uncertainty across the VI as residents and business owners ponder the future.

While AARP does not currently support or oppose the proposed bill, Monday’s meetings heralded a new way of doing public business which most attendees found encouraging. In a totally uncharacteristic manner, public servants met with stakeholders in a straight forward and honest discussion that caused most people involved to initially react cautiously.

Although the VI Sunshine Law calls for public business to be conducted in a manner that encourages public attendance and input, sometimes this has not been the case in recent years. Instead, agencies hold policy meetings in secret, away from the preying eyes of the public and the media. There have even been instances in the Legislative chambers when in response to questioning that AARP staff and volunteers heard testifiers comment that no one had met with them to discuss the impact on their neighborhood or business. This is why Monday’s meeting was so unique.

It broke the established rules and brought the issue directly to stakeholders PRIOR to reaching the floor of the Legislature. The policymakers came with draft legislation to address the gasoline tax issues and actually listened closely to what the stakeholders in attendance had to say.

 Attendees were asked to participate in the discussion and to listen to the senators’ proposed solution to the community’s challenge. Attendees were surprised to learn the meeting was a listening session intended to gather their input, and that the legislators openly sought the critical day-to-day working knowledge that those in the industry could provide to help develop realistic public policy.

AARP VI salutes the senators who found the courage to hold these meetings in a truly democratic fashion. These meetings, although heated at times, were a clear step in the right direction toward conducting open, honest and transparent government activities. We sincerely hope we are witnessing a new age in VI government openness and willingness to allow citizens to actively participate in the process that governs them.

For more information on volunteer opportunities, please visit us at the AARP Virgin Islands web page. We also encourage you to visit our social media sites on Facebook and Twitter.