The V.I. Water and Power Authority has fired one of its top attorneys amid growing public backlash over his purported racist comments on social media.
On Tuesday, WAPA announced in a statement that “following the completion of the internal review process outlined by its personnel policies and procedures, the individual responsible for social media posts this past weekend is no longer employed” with WAPA.
That individual has been identified as Mark Kragel, the utility’s deputy general counsel who, in a series of Facebook posts over the weekend, reportedly demeaned and degraded the Black Lives Matter movement.
The comments drew swift backlash online and eventually spread to the streets — in the form of a protest Tuesday outside the WAPA offices on St. Croix — and to the highest levels of government.
On Sunday, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. called for Kragel’s termination. On Tuesday, several senators released statements denouncing the remarks and also calling for Kragel’s firing.
“I feel it necessary to remind those living among us that as Virgin Islanders, we have a proud history of rebelling against disrespect, insult and mistreatment of our people,” said Sen. Athneil Thomas. “Not only should [Kragel] lose his job for which he’s paid by the people of this territory, but the community needs to take a stand against patronizing his private endeavors going forward.”
Sen. Allison DeGazon said she was “appalled to read such distasteful and offensive commentary” and insisted the employees of WAPA should reflect the values and best interests of the community it serves.
Similar statements came from Senators Janelle Sarauw and Kenneth Gittens.
Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory, who also called for Kragel’s termination, expressed frustration toward WAPA Executive Director Lawrence Kupfer and his tepid response to the matter — of which, she said, she was “not at all surprised.”
“This is the very same display of weak, nonchalant leadership that my colleagues and I have been dealing with since taking office last year,” she said in a statement. “These are the people leading the territory’s utility system right into the ground.”
She continued, “If we don’t address this overtly racist behavior, we’ll be sending the wrong message to our community, who are in fact, majority black. Not only should WAPA fire Kragel, but management should conduct an investigation to ensure that none of Kragel’s decisions as the Authority’s attorney were racially biased or motivated in any way.”
In a statement Tuesday, Kupfer indicated that WAPA denounces any actions that would lead its employees, customers and other stakeholders to question the utility’s commitment to serving and representing the entire Virgin Islands community.
“I strongly condemn any action, statement, post or other form of conduct that seeks to undermine or denigrate the nationwide effort to end racism in policing and in our society generally,” Kupfer said.
“Repairing the deep wounds that have been created will not occur overnight, but important work is underway and represents an important priority for the authority,” he added.