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Senate President Kenneth Gittens Ousted By Majority of 33rd Legislature Today

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — By a vote of 9 to 6, a majority of Virgin Islands senators voted to oust current Senate President Kenneth L. Gittens today.

The new Senate President is St. Croix Senator Novelle Francis, Jr. and his Vice President is the 32nd Legislature’s Senate President Myron Jackson of St. Thomas — whose former senate body is currently under the cloud of a forensic audit — of which Francis and Jackson were each members.

Gone from the Vice Presidency is St. Thomas Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory, the former Senate Finance Chairwoman. St. Croix Senator Kurt Vialet, who hasn’t attended any meetings due to illness, was named the new Finance Committee Chairman, even though he is apparently not a member of the new majority caucus.

The news was at first denied by the former 33rd Legislature’s Senate President and then confirmed for the Virgin Islands Free Press.

“While it remains unclear whether the actions of several members of the 33rd Legislature (today) were legal or valid,” Gittens said, “that efforts to unseat (me) were solely as a result of (my) call for an audit of the Legislature’s finances.”

The new majority caucus apparently met outside of the territory’s Sunshine Law, Gittens sent all legislative staff members home today before the impromptu meeting — including transportation staff — stranding some senators on St. Thomas.

The new Senate Majority met this afternoon without the public or press present.

Voting to upend Gittens were:

Francis, St. Croix freshman Senator Alicia Barnes, St. Croix freshman Senator Javan James, St. Croix freshman Senator Allison Lisa DeGazon, St. Thomas Senator Marvin Blyden, St. Thomas Senator Dwayne DeGraff, St. John At-Large Senator Steven Payne, Jackson and two-term St. Thomas Senator Janelle Sarauw.

Shortly after assuming the office of Senate President, Gittens said that he discovered “serious irregularities.” Realizing the problems were much bigger than could be addressed internally, he wrote to the Inspector General on February 6, 2019 requesting a forensic audit.

“The 31st and 32nd Legislature operated beyond the bounds of both ethics and the law and every effort is being made to orchestrate a cover up,” Gittens said.

Senator Gittens said he was elected by the people of St. Croix and, whatever the outcome, would continue to do his best on their behalf. He said his primary concern was any disruption in conducting the people’s business.

“At the end of the day any such disorganized and abrupt actions only serve in delaying action on the many important matters before us,” Senator Gittens said. “But we also must consider that the last time the body was abruptly reorganized the end result was chaos and, eventually, led to jail terms when the misdeeds caught up with them.”

Senator Gittens said that disagreements are to be expected, but that disrespect was never acceptable.

“This is not a drama session,” he said. “Our deliberations will never be without politics, but we must put the people’s business first. Some have forgotten that it is not about serving ourselves, we must remain ever mindful that it is about serving our people. May God continue to bless the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

The voting took place after the Senate Session that Gittens began on Tuesday.

After the Session was adjourned by Gittens Tuesday, it was re-convened today. When the session was over, the new Senate Majority met.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 50 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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