Julito Francis… 'You’re Fired,' Says viNGN Board

In a surprise move Thursday, V.I. Next Generation Network board members unanimously voted to fire Julito Francis, the corporation’s president and chief executive officer.

The viNGN’s meetings are usually held in the morning, but Thursday’s was in the middle of the afternoon, in a conference room that is usually packed. This time, however, only three viNGN/Public Finance Authority employees were present, while viNGN’s board members participated by teleconference.

After approving the minutes of their last meeting, board members went into a quick executive session to discuss personnel matters. When the meeting resumed, viNGN board chairman Gov. John deJongh Jr. spoke heavily about the need to terminate Francis’ employment agreement.

The viNGN oversees the territory’s broadband initiative, which is being funded in large part by a series of federal grants through the National Telecommunication Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). During a meeting two months ago, deJongh said that the broadband initiative is subject to a grants administrative audit, which was conducted in June.

A letter outlining the findings was submitted to viNGN’s parent company, the Public Finance Authority, on Aug. 31st by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and an emergency session of the viNGN board was held to respond to their call for a corrective action plan, and to put together a team that would help develop one. DeJongh said the federal government was looking to have more formal procedures in place and more personnel, which board members introduced during a more recent meeting about a week ago.

It was also announced that that the U.S. Commerce Department declared that it had accepted the corrective action plan, and was lifting the freeze put on viNGN’s broadband funding as a result of the audit’s findings. On Thursday, deJongh said the decision to fire Francis was made after the board did an assessment, and weighed the concerns that came out of the federal government’s site visit and audit.

“I think this is all the result of, quite frankly, the seriousness of how we approach the responsibility that we have with respect to the broadband funding we were given, but also the trust that has been placed in us with respect to the bond proceeds, and the building out of this broadband infrastructure,” deJongh said Thursday.

DeJongh said that after the last board meeting, he gave Francis the chance to resign.

“He appears to have declined that offer, and that’s why some of these actions are now needed today,” the governor said about Francis.

The board then voted to accept a resolution making board member Alfred Boschulte viNGN’s interim president and CEO. The Business Operations Committee previously chaired by Boschulte was also disbanded, and the board’s compensation committee was authorized to “immediately conduct” a search for another president and CEO.

Board members voting in favor of the resolution were Boschulte, deJongh, Hugo Hodge Jr., Peter Schultz and Douglas Woodhead.

The viNGN’s next board meeting will be Nov. 18.

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