Governor Gus Jaspert said on March 26 that he does not intend to issue a writ for a by-election following legal advice that Fourth District Representative Mark Vanterpool’s resignation “was invalid on the basis that the member-elect has no constitutional right to resign prior to being sworn in.”
The statement followed a press release from Speaker of the House Julian Willock on Monday stating that his March 13 “ruling” accepting Mr. Vanterpool’s resignation still stands.
Mr. Willock said in the statement that he had notified Mr. Jaspert “on two occasions” of a Fourth District vacancy, “as Mr. Vanterpool followed through on his express intent and did not show up on [March 12] to be sworn in as an elected member.”
“I trust that Governor Jaspert will not allow the people of District Four to go without a district representative for much longer,” Mr. Willock added, pointing out that District Five did not have a representative for about five months following the death of Representative Dolores Christopher.
“I know that the governor values our democracy and the role it plays in good governance and improving the lives of our people, so we await a by-election date, which under the Constitution can only be called by him.”
Mr. Vanterpool told the Beacon yesterday that he has written to Mr. Willock to ask for a swearing-in date.
“The rest of it is up to the speaker,” he said, declining to comment further.
Mr. Vanterpool sparked a legal quarrel with Mr. Willock on March 14 when he reversed his March 5 decision to resign for “personal reasons.”
Mr. Vanterpool said in a video on his Facebook page that his March 5 resignation — which was submitted before Mr. Willock took office — was considered invalid because it was addressed to the clerk of the House of Assembly instead of to the speaker as required by law.
However, Messrs. Vanterpool and Willock, who have previously sparred over the coverage of Mr. Vanterpool on Mr. Willock’s website, Virgin Island News Online, disagree over the validity of Mr. Vanterpool’s original resignation.
Mr. Jaspert said in a press conference on March 15 that he would need to receive a formal notification of a vacancy before he could issue the writ for a by-election.
Premier Andrew Fahie said he would respect the speaker’s decision on the issue in an interview with radio host Claude Skelton-Cline on March 19, before Messrs. Willock and Jaspert issued their most recent statements.
Mr. Fahie added that the legality of Mr. Vanterpool’s resignation presented a legal “grey area.”
“Really and truly, the law doesn’t speak to this area,” he said. “Cause no one ever anticipated that someone would resign not too long after the election, before they were sworn in, and then say that they want to be sworn in.”
The premier also criticised Mr. Vanterpool’s flip-flopping.
“Persons stand out in the hot sun to make sure that they come in and they cast their vote for you. It’s a very serious thing and I don’t take it lightly,” he said. “And it’s not one where you should just wake up and decide you’re finished and then wake up the next morning and decide you’re going. You’re dealing with people’s lives.”
Mr. Vanterpool said in his March 14 video that he had listened to the concerns of Fourth District residents and wished to put his “personal reasons” for resigning aside.