Gov. Kenneth Mapp entered office a year ago vowing change, transparency and an economic plan to lead the U.S. Virgin Islands into a favorable future.
“Financially, we are not in a good place,” Mapp told the territory in his first State of the Territory address, Jan. 26, 2015. “In fact, our territory has never been in such a state in our history.”
A year later the government has borrowed more money; attracted little new industry; failed to get Washington’s attention for needed road and infrastructure funding; and avoided any attempts at operating an open government.
Senate President Neville James has referred to the Mapp administration as a reign, and Mapp’s early words about the rule of law and transparency ring hollow in the face of repeated failures to provide public documents, providing documents that have been altered and manipulated and firing an attorney from her government job after she turned over credit card receipts as she was required to do by law.
Mapp’s efforts to seat Cabinet members turned into angry debate in the Senate when he demanded big raises for most of his appointees, justifying the request by saying their expertise and skills were going to be critical in resolving the territory’s woes.
It took months to get Senate approval for many of Mapp’s choices. Five of his nominees only took their oaths of office last week.
The selection of an attorney general was a repeated failure in 2015 as Mapp’s first choice, Soraya Diase Coffelt, quit 10 days into her tenure, saying she refused to be a puppet to the governor.
“The governor specifically told me that I would be able to build my team and he would not ‘micro-manage’ me. Those were his words, not mine,” Coffelt told The Daily News.
Almost immediately that promise was broken, she said.
Upon Coffelt’s departure, Mapp tapped Terri Griffiths as acting attorney general, but she was later replaced by retired Superior Court Judge James Carroll, who also served in an acting role.
In August, former Assistant Attorney General Claude Walker accepted the post. He was confirmed in December by the Senate.
After Coffelt’s departure, she said it is critical for the Virgin Islands to have a more independent attorney general, whether by electing one or enacting legislation to strengthen the department.
In October, The Daily News uncovered a March email from Emile Henderson III, the chief legal counsel in the governor’s office, in which he told Mapp and Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter that it is illegal for the government to pay for Potter’s housing.
“No government funds can be used to rent a residence” for the lieutenant governor, Henderson wrote. “Such rental would be in violation of the law.”
The governor overruled Henderson, saying Potter deserved government housing, and the Department of Property and Procurement signed a lease for a Mahogany Run condo for his use.
Misdirection and secrecy clouded the lease of a luxury villa for the governor.
Numerous times, Government House and the governor said that taxpayer funds were being used to pay the lease for a seven-bedroom, nine-bath villa for Mapp on the east end of St. Thomas.
But that wasn’t the truth.
The villa was paid for by the West Indian Co., where the governor’s chief of staff, Randy Knight, is the chairman of the board.
WICO, which owes the government millions, hoped to offset its debt by covering the $14,500-a-month expense. When public pressure rose over the housing deal, Mapp relented and said he would move out of the villa.
The resolution on Potter’s illegal housing is murky as well.
The condo lease was dated Feb. 27 to provide Potter with housing from April 1, 2015, to March 31, 2016. The $2,800-a-month lease was approved by Mapp on May 28.
The lieutenant governor said at a July 20 press conference that he personally would take over paying the rent for the Mahogany Run condo. But he also said he had not stayed a night in the unit, despite the fact that the executive branch had been paying the rent and had spent several thousand dollars on furnishing it.
Potter also was instrumental in the executive branch altering documents before releasing them in response to a public record request by The Daily News. Potter had taken the lead on gathering transition reports sought by the newspaper; however, comparing the copies Potter released with copies provided directly from government agencies showed that Potter’s versions had been heavily edited, manipulated and altered.
Mapp also demoted, then fired, an attorney tasked by Government House with handling public record requests, and she has filed suit.
Since then, Mapp has publicly said that there is no one in Government House tasked with responding to requests for records from the public.
The lack of a strong communications office in Government House hasn’t made it any easier for the public to know what the central government is doing.
Under Government House spokeswoman Kim Jones, often the answer to questions about the governor’s policies or procedures had been “I don’t know.” When Jones left her position to become a deputy Health commissioner, the new communication director, Nicole Bollentini, put the media on notice that she is not the person to ask.
In the meantime, the first year of the Mapp administration has been frittered away. There’s been lots of high living and fine dining, yet cameras bought to record police interaction with the public sit unused and teachers take to the streets to protest pay problems, deplorable working conditions and inadequate teaching supplies.
In the meantime, charges against former Gov. John deJongh Jr. that were trumpeted loudly by the attorney general are on the verge of being dropped. During his Senate confirmation, Walker cited the deJongh arrest as a positive step taken by the Justice Department.
Senators responded by asking him to suggest something that had actually occurred under his watch.
— Contact Jonathan Austin at 340-714-9104 or email email@example.com.
Jan. 5 — Gov. Kenneth Mapp and Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter take the oath of office just before noon, promising those in attendance that they are ready to get to work. “It is indeed a time to build, and Ken Mapp and I will be the main contractors on duty for the next four years,” Potter said.
Jan. 15 — Soraya Diase Coffelt resigns as Mapp’s choice to be attorney general within hours of appearing at the governor’s side for a press conference.
Jan. 26 — In his first State of the Territory address, Mapp paints a bleak picture of the territory’s financial state, saying things will get worse before getting better and describing some steps he believes will help turn things around.
Feb. 12 — A V.I. Police officer recruitment drive is unsuccessful in the St. Thomas-St. John District. Mapp said the issue had been testing — poor performance by job candidates on a test that the governor said was written to a seventh-grade level.
Feb. 17 — Mapp’s financial team makes their first appearance before the Senate Finance Committee and tells senators the government currently is facing a $133 million budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2015.
Feb. 19 — The Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee forwards the nomination of Milton Potter for V.I. Personnel director to the full body with a favorable recommendation following his confirmation hearing Thursday. The nominee is the brother of the lieutenant governor.
March 2 — The Senate Finance Committee hears testimony on a bill that would appropriate $1 million to the Governor’s Office to hire lawyers to launch a legal battle the governor says he plans to pursue against HOVENSA and its owners.
March 11 — Mapp and the Senate meet privately, though the law requires that meetings of a government body in which a quorum of members is present be open to the public and that public notice be given in advance when possible.
March 27 — Mapp signs a bill that contains appropriations for territory hospitals — $7 million to Luis Hospital on St. Croix and $3,425,957 to Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas. He notes the expenditure will increase the V.I. government’s projected budget shortfall for the 2015 fiscal year to $144 million.
April 8 — At a press conference on St. Croix, Mapp says the investigation into methyl bromide poisoning on St. John that left a Delaware family hospitalized revealed that several other pest control companies in the territory also use the toxic pesticide. He says the government will not reveal the names of the additional companies in possession of methyl bromide until a final report is issued.
April 18 — Mapp says that care and treatment for the 62 patients in Luis Hospital was not compromised during a day-long power outage on St. Croix.
April 21 — Mapp speaks on the air with a St. Croix radio host for more than two hours in an appearance billed as a call-in show for residents to ask questions. Mapp speaks extemporaneously for nearly 80 minutes about his background; how he chooses commissioners to head departments; how the territory can better serve the mentally ill; and how to create good jobs. He takes questions from only about three or four callers.
May 4 — A spokeswoman for Government House says the West Indian Company, Ltd., is responsible for housing the governor, and therefore it is paying the $12,500 monthly rent for the governor’s leased villa in Nazareth. Previously, officials have said that the government was paying the bill.
May 7 — Mapp publicly calls out two island resorts as lawbreakers when he announces that he had declined to approve extended economic and tax benefits for them. Mapp says he disapproved applications for an extension for Economic Development Commission benefits for the Sugar Bay Hotel property on St. Thomas’ East End and the Windward Passage Hotel in Charlotte Amalie.
May 14 — Mapp announces that he will sign an executive order merging the V.I. Next Generation Network with the Bureau of Information Technology. The government is offered no other information about the plan.
May 28 — Mapp says he will give up his $12,500-per-month luxury house on the East End of St. Thomas. Mapp said he will move out of the leased villa he has been occupying in Estate Nazareth.
June 10 — Police Commissioner Delroy Richards Sr. goes before the Senate Finance Committee to ask that the Senate fund his department with $20 million more than what is recommended in the governor’s budget proposal.
June 17 — Only days after returning from a two-week trip to Guam and Miami, Mapp says he is once again hitting the road and heading to Washington, D.C., to seek support for increasing the territory’s share of highway funds in the federal budget.
June 30 — Mapp says “we are prepared to enter the courts of the territory to seek an injunction which allows the government to go into Sea View to take control and care of these individuals” after the Sea View Nursing Home on St. Thomas was set to lose its Medicare certification.
July 2 — The Mapp administration provides The Daily News with transition reports from 30 government departments and agencies, but a review of the reports shows that critical data and information has been removed and altered.
July 9 — The Senate Committee of the Whole votes to subpoena Randy Knight, the governor’s chief of staff and the chairman of the board of the West Indian Co., to answer questions about how WICO came to pay to house Mapp.
July 15 — The Senate Finance Committee meets to consider the government’s need to borrow against property tax revenue in order to pay basic general fund obligations, such as payroll and vendor payments.
July 20 — Potter says he personally will take over the payment for the Mahogany Run condo rented for him. The lieutenant governor also says he has not stayed a single day in the condo while it has been rented at taxpayer expense.
July 30 — The Legislature approves the nominations of 12 people to lead Mapp’s departments and agencies on Thursday, but not before capping their pay.
Aug. 5 — Mapp nominates former prosecutor Claude Walker to serve as the territory’s attorney general. Walker replaces former Judge James Carroll III, who replaced Terri Griffiths, who replaced Soraya Diase Coffelt.
Aug. 10 — Mapp proposes $1 million more in aid to help the territory’s farmers in the wake of a devastating drought.
Aug. 17 — Mapp asks the Legislature for $350,000 to purchase “ceremonial vehicles” for him and Lt. Gov. Potter —with a set of vehicles for both districts — as part of an $8 million increase in a spending authorization.
Aug. 27 — Mapp declares a state of emergency and a curfew and orders the V.I. National Guard into territorial active military service. He says he made his decision to take these actions after Tropical Storm Erika skirts the territory with little effect.
Sept. 1 — Mapp encourages the territory’s taxi industry to embrace tourism changes — including undergoing mandatory hospitality training to maintain a taxi license — during a community meeting at Government House.
Sept. 17 — The Daily News reports that Mapp’s private trip out of the territory in May included a shopping trip at Macy’s Department Store in Miami, where he bought more than $5,000 worth of towels and bed linens made by Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger.
Sept. 21 — The Daily News reports that Mapp relies heavily on his government issued credit card, and nearly everything the governor charges gets paid for by the public. The statement history of Mapp’s government-issued Visa card shows spiraling spending habits in the first seven months of his administration, with charges outpacing payments; balances carried forward from one statement period to another; and the imposition of finance charges.
Oct. 1 — One senator after another weighs in on the governor’s use of public funds for what Sen. Terrence Nelson calls Mapp’s “rich tastes” and lavish spending of public funds. It ends with Nelson saying that the people — and the Senate — have the authority to recall a governor, if they can move the masses to act.
Oct. 9 — As acting attorney general, Walker has follows up his initial request by issuing a subpoena to the GERS board chairman in his battle to get the financial trading records and portfolio data for the last five years from the Government Employees’ Retirement System.
Oct. 15 — Sen. Almando Liburd asks the V.I. Inspector General to audit government agencies and the of use government-issued credit cards. The request comes after a series of Daily News articles that detail how Mapp has used his office credit card for the purchase of beer, wine, groceries and more than $5,000 worth of sheets and towels at Macy’s in Miami, among other things.
Oct. 19 — Mapp signs an executive order that should lead to the development of a U.S. Virgin Islands policy for climate change.
Oct. 26 — Mapp signs into law a bill that drastically changes the rules governing retirement for employees of the V.I. government. Mapp signs the bill after he initially had issued a veto because the legislation had typographical errors involving numbers and percentages, according to the governor’s transmittal letter to Senate President Neville James.
Nov. 4 — After meeting with his investigative team to discuss the gun violence that results in eight victims in 10 days, Richards compares the crime in the territory to a “war among a young group in the community,” one which is being fought in the wrong way.
Nov. 13 — Mapp says he is terminating a Justice Department attorney who sues him and the governor’s office under the territory’s Whistleblower Act. A statement issued by Government House spokeswoman Kim Jones says “Mapp has notified attorney LaVerne Mills-Williams that her employment with the Government of the Virgin Islands has been terminated, effective on this date.”
Nov. 19 — A hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to consider the sale of HOVENSA’s assets to the best and highest bidder takes an unusual twist after allegations surface about Mapp’s possible collusion in the auction process.
Nov. 30 — After a lengthy hearing, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Mary Walrath approves the sale of HOVENSA’s facility on St. Croix’s South Shore to ArcLight Capital Partners’ Limetree Bay Holdings.
Dec. 8 — Some St. Croix teachers stage a two-hour demonstration to raise awareness about concerns that they said have plagued the education system for years. Those issues include a lack of a contract and chief negotiator; the failure of the government to grant pay increases and outstanding paychecks owed to employees; and overall deplorable working conditions and inadequate teaching supplies.
Dec. 17 — Senators vote to approve a plan they said will settle the contentious, yearlong debate over the issue of Mapp’s housing. The plan, approved by a vote of 13-2, would lease property adjacent to Government House on St. Thomas for Mapp’s housing.
Dec. 29 — The 31st Legislature ratifies an operating agreement with proposed HOVENSA-buyer Limetree Bay Terminals. Limetree Bay wants to operate an oil storage facility at the HOVENSA site on St. Croix’s South Shore and has agreed to consider the possibility of restarting some refining at the facility. The agreement passed 10-5.