Fourth District residents and opposition members delivered a petition to Governor Gus Jaspert on Tuesday calling for Mark Vanterpool to be sworn in as Fourth District representative and citing a raft of complaints regarding his legal battle with Speaker of the House Julian Willock — including the potential cost to taxpayers, which Opposition Leader Marlon Penn suggested is already around $180,000.
Other concerns included the fact that District Four has now gone without representation for well over 60 days in direct violation of the Elections Act, they claimed.
Leaders from the recently formed “grievance committee” of the Fourth District said they collected more than 1,000 signatures for the petition in response to the protracted legal battle between Messrs. Vanterpool and Willock.
Media members were not permitted to attend the meeting at the Governor’s Office and Mr. Jaspert did not speak to the press, but committee leader Marilyn Freeman said he was “thankful for us being here today” and Mr. Penn said he accepted the petition. “We’re expecting for the governor as the Queen’s representative to look into the matter with concern of having Honourable Mark Vanterpool sworn in,” Ms. Freeman said.
‘Threat to democracy’
Mr. Penn called the situation a “threat to democracy” and criticised Premier Andrew Fahie for not disclosing the cost to taxpayers.
He added that his “intelligence” told him that Mr. Willock’s costs are already “in the range of over $100,000” and that Mr. Vanterpool’s are “close to $80,000” for the legal case.
The High Court ruled in Mr. Vanterpool’s favour on May 2, but Mr. Willock has appealed.
If Mr. Vanterpool ultimately wins, the court could rule that the speaker’s side, which is funded by public money, would have to foot the entire bill.
“He in his own words said that when the court decides he would accept the court’s decision,” Mr. Penn complained of Mr. Willock. “The court has decided. He has not accepted the court’s decision.”
Neither government officials nor the residents specified what kind of action they wanted the governor to take.
“We should be able to deal with local matters locally,” Mr. Penn said. “And the fact that we have to now resort to going to the governor to address an issue like this is very unfortunate. It shows that the current government does not respect democracy, does not respect the democratic process. Because the premier could have nipped this in the bud a long time ago.”
Alvera Maduro-Caines (R-D6) — who, like Messrs. Penn and Vanterpool, is a member of the National Democratic Party — also attended the meeting and joined Mr. Penn in criticising the ruling party.
“The government is claiming that they’re a government of inclusion and a government who cares about the people,” she said. “But if they truly care about the people, especially the people of the Fourth District, they would swear in Honourable Vanterpool so he can represent his people.”
Mr. Jaspert has previously said that he did not intend to issue a writ for a by-election following Mr. Vanterpool’s resignation and subsequent reversal, explaining that the “member-elect” had no constitutional right to resign prior to being sworn in.
The governor reaffirmed his statement at a press conference on May 23.
Mr. Vanterpool told the Beacon yesterday, “I’m happy to see that my constituents are advocating for democracy and representation. Hopefully the petition will not fall on deaf ears and that I can begin to serve the people in the proper way as urgently as possible.”
Mr. Willock did not answer questions yesterday regarding the petition.