Raymond Williams, a well-known and well connected Crucian who’s the current Board of Elections chairman, and who also serves on the board of the Public Services Commission, was approved by the Senate Committee on Rules and Judiciary as Governor Bryan’s nominee to serve as the executive director of the V.I. Lottery.
Yet while lawmakers approved Mr. Williams’s nomination, he was admonished to never again use vulgar language to address employees, an occurrence that Mr. Williams acknowledged during the hearing, and which he apologized for.
“When I read in my testimony, I said most of you know me. I think you know I’m a very passionate person. I have the ill-fate of one occasion traveling here to St. Thomas where — and I’m not going to dive into details — but I stepped out with profanity but it wasn’t directed to a single employee or any individual, it was just a loud outburst because I was very angry about the scenario or the situation that had taken place,” Mr. Williams said.
“But I’ll tell you — and at least two of my employees that are sitting here were in that vicinity — I came back and I apologized. And today again I do apologize. Because like I said I guess I’m a very passionate person, but then [if] any of my staff or my family will tell you today that I have ever done any such thing again, that is a damn lie. I am a fun-loving guy. I love family, I love community, and that was a mistake on my behalf. I am a human being, and I apologize for that.”
The profanity Mr. Williams referred to came to the fore through anonymous letters that were circulated ahead of his confirmation hearing that painted a bleak picture of the V.I. Lottery since Mr. Williams’s arrival roughly four months ago. At least one of the letters spoke of the profanity flung at employees by Mr. Williams, and described the new director as “arrogant and disrespectful,” and as someone who thinks he is “always right.”
“He wants no opinion from any of the employees that have been employed in Lottery for numerous years. And many of us have been employed here over fifteen years, so that should tell you that we used to love this job,” read one of the letters provided to The Consortium.
The anonymous letter added, “We say used to because this is the worse Lottery [has] ever been.”
Senator Novelle Francis described the letters as a character assassination attempt, and said they could not be taken seriously because of their anonymous nature. “I’m not going to condone individuals unwilling to put their names to whatever letter that they’ve written. We have an opportunity for individuals to come and testify for or against a nominee,” Mr. Francis said.
Political retribution has been a known occurrence in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which may be one of the reasons those who wrote the letters chose to protect themselves.
And the letters, according to Senator Janelle Sarauw, who chairs the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, were not anonymous at least to St. Thomas lawmakers.
“Many staff members of the VI Lottery voiced their concerns and they dropped [the letters] off. But the Virgin Islands government, we can’t forget our history. We have a history of firing people — political retribution — when they speak out against what they feel are injustices,” Ms. Sarauw said. “And many times we don’t understand what freedom of speech is… But employees have the right to come to their elected officials, to whom we ask for their vote every two or four years, to voice their concerns if they feel that their working environments are hostile — and that’s what they did. But I know exactly where the letters came from, for the public to know and for the record.”
“We fired people from Lottery last term for writing letters as well. People are fearful. And democracies can’t flourish when we suppress freedom of speech,” Ms. Sarauw added.
Senator Marvin Blyden also recalled during the last administration a VI Lottery employee who had shared concerns with a number of senators, including Mr. Blyden, and was fired. Mr. Blyden said this person is now in the U.S. mainland contributing to another community. “That really pisses me off and that’s wrong. Folks should be able to voice their concerns,” he said.
Ms. Sarauw said she had heard a recorded “rant” of Mr. Williams while he was addressing employees. “I’m not too sure after that rant if I would come back to work for you, to be honest,” she said. “And that is the problem that we have today… You need to commit to making sure that your work place is not the battlefield; that it is a safe environment; that you have an open-door policy; that staff have the ability to feel comfortable in saying their dissent; in saying they don’t agree with something.
“You can have the most gifted athletes but if they don’t have discipline or a good attitude, they don’t make it far… So the debate today is really not about whether or not you’re qualified. We know that you’re qualified. The dilemma here is your disposition within the VI Lottery. And we know you like to curse; that’s just on the record and we’re asking that you curtail that,” Ms. Sarauw said.
The motion to move Mr. Williams’s nomination favorable from the Committee on Rules and Judiciary to the full body for further consideration was made by Senator Alicia Barnes. Four senators voted in the affirmative: Ms. Barnes, Mr. Francis, and Senators Kenneth Gittens and Steven Payne.
Ms. Sarauw voted against the nomination. Senators Myron Jackson and Javan James were absent.