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Cabinet Members Promise New Era of Efficiency, Accountability

May 4, 2007 — Walking in to lively music provided by the Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School Band, seven of the administration's newest cabinet members excitedly assembled on the school's stage Friday and took their official oath of office, administered by V.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Rhys S. Hodge.
Friday's honorees included: Director of Personnel Kenneth L. Hermon, Commissioner of Agriculture Louis Petersen Jr., Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty, Commissioner of Planning and Natural Resources Robert S. Mathes, Commissioner of Property and Procurement Lynn A. Millin, Commissioner of Public Safety James H. McCall; and Attorney General Vincent Frazer.
Many attending Friday's swearing-in ceremonies described it as an "historic" event, which represented the return of accountability, transparency and cooperation to government. However, Gov. John deJongh Jr. simply said that it made him feel "extra special" to see some of the first few members of his administration officially take their places at the helm of several departments and agencies.
"Each of the individuals sitting up here are very special," deJongh said. "They are committed to moving the territory forward, and that's important, because our charge, more than anything else, is to leave it [the government] better than how we found it."
Speaking earlier during the ceremony, Lt. Gov. Gregory R. Francis also described the group as the "best of the best" — a set of commissioners committed to bringing "significant" progress and "positive" change throughout the entire government.
"I could not be more proud of the members of the cabinet we're about to swear in today," he said, adding that each commissioner will be tasked with the daunting responsibility of streamlining the "bureaucracy of government," responding to residents and running departments and agencies in an efficient and courteous manner.
"Those are just a few of the tasks you'll be taking on over the next few years," Francis said. "But I am confident each one of you will succeed. There is much more to do and much we can do to move these islands forward. And together, we will."
Similar remarks were issued throughout the two-hour ceremony, not only by deJongh and Francis, but by the commissioners themselves. Standing before the large group packed into the middle school's spacious auditorium, each official pledged to uphold the mandates of their respective department or agency, improve outdated or tedious government process and fully serve the citizens of the territory.
"I will be a commissioner of Property and Procurement that the administration can stand by," Millin said, in her usual soft-spoken manner. By the time Millin stood up to speak, however, it was already clear that she had won over the respect of the crowd — along with the territory's top two government officials.
"Commissioner Millin brings a quiet but confident strength to the department," Francis said earlier in the ceremony. "Now, we can finally begin taking the necessary steps toward becoming more transparent and accountable."
Continuing to highlight the need for transparency in government, deJongh also praised the work ethic of both Frazer and McCall, who have recently forged a partnership in an effort to decrease the territory's crime levels.
"These two gentlemen are not just committed to their offices, but they are committed to working together — that's wonderful," deJongh said.
Taking the stand dressed in a crisp, black suit and light pink tie, McCall told the audience of his lifelong dream of being a police officer, describing, among other things, how he used to smuggle an undercover detective kit into church when he was a child.
"That's a true story," he said, making the audience burst into fits of laughter.
On a more serious note, McCall summed up his commitment to law enforcement in a simple sentence: "I always knew that I wanted to help people and arrest those who preyed upon the innocent," he said.
Speaking candidly, Frazer said he had not, prior to receiving deJongh's offer, planned to be the territory's attorney general. "Three years ago, my greatest desire was to go into full-time gospel ministry," he said. "I had even begun to pursue … studies in that direction. However, when we think that we know where we want to go, many times God has a different path for our lives."
According to deJongh, DPNR's Mathes also did not immediately accept the offer to come back into government service. "After calling him, and sending an email, I finally had to call his wife and ask her to get him to call me back," he joked.
On a more serious note, deJongh reminisced about the last time he and Mathes had stood on stage together — 20 years ago, as the two were both sworn in as commissioners in the Farrelly-Hodge administration.
Countering deJongh's remarks with his own brand of humor, Mathes said he had "never" in his "wildest or most ambitious dreams" envisioned leading a department that is responsible for both protecting the territory's natural resources and creating opportunities for development.
However, Mathes said he is up for the challenge, adding, "Remember, most of all, we're gonna have fun, have a laugh or two along the way and strive to provide the highest level of service to the people of the Virgin Islands."
Several other commissioners, such as Tourism's Nicholson-Doty, assured the audience that they are also committed to bringing high-quality service to the community. "Exceeding expectations should not be an occasional occurrence, but an everyday commitment," she said, amid thunderous applause, shouts and cheers.
Speaking earlier in the meeting, both deJongh and Francis described Nicholson-Doty as a "perfect fit" for the job, bringing a plethora of experience from her 14-year stint as the head of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association.
Petersen was also "tailor-made" for Agriculture commissioner, deJongh added, saying that his blend of intelligence and practicality will help to bolster the territory's ailing farm industry.
Rounding out the ceremony on Friday was Personnel's Hermon. At 36, he is the youngest member of the deJongh-Francis cabinet, but brings 12 years of experience to the job, having formerly served as the assistant director of Personnel on St. Croix, among other things.
On Friday, both deJongh and Francis said Hermon's age is a great asset, one that will allow him to handle the division's maze of problems, while overseeing thousands of government employees.
"His youth and courage will serve him well … in government," Francis said. "He is focused and goal-oriented, and he represents our future."
Standing before the large crowd, packed into the school auditorium, Hermon kept his remarks brief but sincere. "It is not often that someone receives so handsome a tribute that has been bestowed on me and my colleagues today, or is it often that the opportunity comes up to serve so grand a community that is rich in diversity and culture," he said.
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