~ Dispute to end in court ~
PHILIPSBURG–There is a dispute regarding the leadership of the Dutch St. Maarten Taxi Association (DSTA), as two groups claim leadership of the organisation’s more than 200 taxi drivers. The dispute is likely to end in court, say representatives of one faction.
A group of seven taxi drivers began to question the taxi association’s financial situation under the leadership of DSTA President Conrad Richardson, as they claimed no financial report had been submitted by that board since 2014, and they believed the association’s debt to Port St. Maarten was increasing. This, they claim, is against the organisation’s Constitution. The new group also claim the association’s registration with the St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry (COCI) in 2018 has not been updated since 2016, making its current board “illegal”.
Richardson has confirmed that no financial report was submitted by the association from 2014 until early 2019. However, a member of Richardson’s board said this was not done because former treasurer and one of the members of the new group, Jacqueline Janse had not handed over financial documents to the new board until 2018.
Janse said the financial documents remained in the office and, as such, there was no reason to withhold a finance report for four years.
According to representatives of the group, these perceived irregularities prompted them to gather a quorum and hold elections in November 2018, which saw the selection of a new board, headed by President Allister Woodley. Richardson claims this election was invalid as a vote of non-confidence had not been passed against the previous board. He also claims that no quorum was in fact present at the election.
In May this year, the new board started the process to have them registered at COCI as the official board of DSTA. At this time, Richardson called an election for May 29.
On that day, members of this new group arrived at DSTA’s office at Port St. Maarten and attempted to change the building’s locks. This created a disturbance and the police were subsequently called. However, the election proceeded, and Richardson was elected as DSTA President.
The new group claims that the May 29 election was invalid, as they did not receive an invitation to the election. According to DSTA’s Constitution, an invitation to a board election must be announced five days prior to the election date. Moreover, they claim the Constitution was also violated because voting was not done in writing.
Two days after the election, Richardson and the other elected board members sent a request to COCI to be inscribed as DSTA’s official board.
In a letter sent to the new group’s lawyer in July, COCI said the two requests following closely behind each other indicate “an internal dispute in the association,” adding that it is “not in a position to determine which board is the legally elected board.”
“Until a decision is taken by the court and an instruction is received, all requests filed with us [to update DSTA’s registration – Ed.] are placed on hold,” said COCI in the letter.
The dispute quieted down for a time. Richardson and the other board members continued functioning as DSTA’s board while the new group weighed its legal options.
However, on September 27, all the members of the new group received suspension letters saying they were barred from accessing the port. These letters were signed by Richardson, as well as DSTA Secretary Maya Friday and DSTA Treasurer Etienne Richardson. The suspensions are for a period of one month, which can be extended.
These letters referenced the changing locks incident on May 29 as reason for their suspensions. “You chose to forcefully gain access to the office of the Dutch St. Maarten Taxi Association with a cruise ship (Allure of the Seas) docked. We were informed by the Port Management that you were not given permission from them to carry out the act of removing the locks from the office door. You created an atmosphere of chaos that violates our concession agreement [with Port St. Maarten], namely article 8.1(iii),” according to the suspension letters.
Members of the new group say Richardson’s leadership constitutes a dictatorship. They allege that he is using these suspensions to punish the new group for threatening his position and to intimidate other DSTA members from similar acts of rebellion. This is effective because a suspension can seriously jeopardise a driver’s economic livelihood, according to them. They also claim that Richardson has used suspensions in the past to intimidate other DSTA members.
Richardson and the DSTA board declined to comment on this issue when approached by The Daily Herald.
Richardson has been DSTA’s President since 2014, when he won a landslide victory in a November election, having received 117 out of 135 possible votes. At that time there was also controversy surrounding DSTA leadership, as an earlier emergency meeting attended by 75 members resulted in a vote of no confidence against then-President Ottis Hughes, who had allegedly abused his power and mismanaged DSTA’s finances. Hughes later said he considered the vote of no confidence invalid because two-thirds of the association’s members had not attended the emergency meeting.
This current dispute is likely to end in court, as members of the new group say they are filing an injunction for the court to determine DSTA’s legally elected board.