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Revitalized St. Croix a Top Priority for Gov.-elect DeJongh

Nov. 22, 2006 — Keeping the mood upbeat and positive during a press conference held Wednesday on St. Thomas, Gov.-elect John deJongh and Lt. Gov.-elect Gregory Francis talked to supporters and members of the media about the future of their administration and the need for unity in order to deal "with issues affecting the territory's pocketbooks."
This included brief discussion on pressing local topics, such as education, the need for affordable housing and the creation of economic development initiatives for St. Croix. Francis, the former St. Croix administrator, said that he and deJongh had already "made contact" with the cruise ship industry in an effort to bring ships back to the big island.
"St. Croix is going to be a priority," Francis said. "All the talk about improving St. Croix, it ended yesterday. Now it's time to take action."
Also discussed were federal issues, such as the right of V.I. residents to vote for president, appointing a chief financial officer for the territory, and lobbying for a local border patrol unit.
"Those are topics we're definitely going to discuss with the delegate to Congress," deJongh said. "I think the thing we need to push for first, though, is the development of a local constitution. We also have to deal with education and the consent decree, the Bureau of Corrections and developing the local EDC (Economic Development Commission) program."
Other top priorities include expanding the role of the lieutenant governor, deJongh said. "We want to do more, so that Greg [Francis] will truly be the No. 2 person in the territory," he added.
Francis said he did not intend "to be a lieutenant governor sitting behind a desk waiting for complaints."
"I'm a man of action, not a man of talk," he said.
Both deJongh and Francis also fielded questions relating to the much-discussed government takeover of Vitelco and reforms to the Government Employees Retirement System. "When it comes to those issues, I can't say that I know much about the state of affairs," deJongh said. "During the transition period, Greg and I are going to gather all the facts on the matters and come to a decision that's in the best interest of the territory."
DeJongh added that he would be asking for input from the new Legislature, working with all 15 senators regardless of whether there is a Democratic or coalition majority. "The Legislature is going to organize, and I respect that they're going to organize," he said. "And I'll be able to work with everyone, no matter what happens."
No announcement was made, however, on the makeup of the new administration's cabinet, or candidates for heads of government agencies, departments or boards and commissions.
"I will be announcing the members of our transition committee early next week, though," deJongh said, adding the both he and Francis will be meeting with members of the current administration to "discuss the issues" and get a handle on the "territory's state of affairs."
On the topic of appointing individuals to government boards and commissions, deJongh added that he would be taking suggestions from public officials and community members. "There are people we may want on boards and commissions who I don't know, or who Greg doesn't know," he said. "But we will be getting input from the community, and from the senators to see if they have any suggestions."
DeJongh drew applause when he said he favored appointing private-sector individuals to serve on boards and commissions over government officials. He noted that an attorney general had more pressing things to do than to sit on a board discussing how many airline flights are coming into the territory.
"I know there are many pressing topics out there to be discussed," he added. "There are issues out there that people see, touch, feel everyday. The transition period will allow us to get up to date on what's going on so we can make the best decisions for the people. Today begins our service to you and the community."
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