Getting public information in the Virgin Islands hasn’t always been easy. We have all heard stories of citizens or reporters who tried to obtain “public information” but were met with resistance or outright refusals instead of the information they sought.
The Public Services Commission, (PSC), does not appear to do business that way. In fact, its Board diligently tries to be straightforward and transparent. For instance, at a recent St. Croix hearing, the public was invited to attend, ask questions and even provide testimony without the all too familiar “pre-testimony screening” required by other boards. AARP found this to be a refreshing example of what democracy is supposed to be about.
Unfortunately, despite the Board’s best efforts, it may no longer be able to function. The law that formed the PSC states that it must be comprised of nine volunteer commissioners; three from St. Thomas and three from St. Croix; one from St. John, and two ex-officio, non-voting members from the Legislature. None of the commissioners are paid, but the work that they do is very time consuming.
Presently, two commissioners, one from St. Thomas and one from St. Croix have resigned their positions to pursue other opportunities. Another St. Thomas commissioner is challenged by personal issues that prohibit him from regularly attending meetings. Additionally, there is speculation that the remaining St. Thomas commissioner may also resign to follow other pursuits. In a nutshell, this could mean there would be virtually no St. Thomas representation and only three commissioners would remain as voting members. The law requires the attendance of four PSC commissioners to constitute a quorum to allow for a vote to be binding.
For some boards the lack of a quorum isn’t always critical. However, at the PSC, the law frequently mandates action be taken within a pre-specified period of time. Failure to do so has the potential for the issue to be granted by default. Without question, this poses a genuine problem for the community.
The VI PSC is unique in many other ways as well. The VI is the only U.S. jurisdiction where the Board is totally composed of volunteers. All other US Public Utility Commissions retain full-time, paid representatives whose only responsibility is PSC business. In the VI, our commissions hold full-time jobs only dedicating their evenings, holidays and weekends to PSC work and doing so for absolutely no compensation other than the satisfaction of serving their community.
Another difference between our PSC and all others is that it receives no funding from the local government. Instead, our PSC operates by apportionments from the VI utilities that it regulates. Ironically, at the end of the year, if money remains in the PSC’s account, it is transferred to the general fund.
AARP urges members of the community to think about the tough work done by the PSC. While we may not always agree with their decisions, they are tough decisions to make. Currently there is a lot of criticism around public officials and the work that they do, how often they meet, and closed door sessions where the public has scanty knowledge. This was a very different meeting and as we attend future meetings, we hope this is standard procedure and not the exception.
We encourage you to send in your comments about your experiences with the PSC. For more information on the issues they face, go to the AARP VI web page and keep pace with this year’s election news. We also encourage you to visit our social media sites on Facebook and Twitter.