The Senate majority rearranged titles Wednesday, replacing Sen. Kenneth Gittens as Senate president with Sen. Novelle Francis, and replacing Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory with Sen. Myron Jackson as chairman of the Committee of Finance.
Frett-Gregory said she learned of the effort only when she found her name on the resolution as the new chairwoman of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary Committee. Before that, the change had never once been discussed with her.
Frett-Gregory said she wasn’t blindsided entirely, as she “heard rumblings in the community.” But she wasn’t prepared for the unfolding of the day’s events nor were any of the plans to restructure ever discussed with her or shared with her by any member of the Senate majority. She said she had concerns coming in as a new senator but overall thought the majority had been working well together.
Gittens questioned both the legality and validity of the actions of the majority of the 33rd Legislature. In a statement released later that evening he said efforts to remove him as Senate president were based on his request for an audit from the Inspector General on Feb. 6 of the Legislature’s finances after he noticed what he called serious irregularities.
“People have a lot of different types of agendas,” Frett-Gregory said.
Frett-Gregory and her staff had already completed the groundwork for consideration of the 2020 budget, which she would have overseen at the head of the Finance Committee. She has submitted 30 pieces of legislation as a new senator and said while she does not dispute the legality of the decision, she disputes its validity.
Frett-Gregory said she won’t fight the decision and has not “drilled down to that level.”
“I was not elected to be in power struggles with my colleagues,” she said. “I was elected to serve the people and focus on legislation that really impacts the lives of people.”
The former Senate President, Gittens, said such actions to disorganize the Senate majority only serves to delay action on the important matters.
“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,” Gittens said, perhaps referencing former Sen. Alvin Williams Jr., who was sentenced to 52 months in jail on racketeering charges.
“The 31st and 32nd Legislatures operated beyond the bounds of both ethics and the law and every effort is being made to orchestrate a cover up,” Gittens said.
Frett-Gregory confirmed she knew about Gittens’ audit request but said she was not in any of the conversations with the majority of the nine senators who participated in the majority rearrangement.
Sen. Alicia Barnes, Sen. Allison DeGazon, Sen. Janelle Sarauw, Sen. Marvin Blyden, Sen. Steven Payne, Sen. Myron Jackson, Sen. Dwayne DeGraff, Sen. Javan James and Sen. Francis all reconvened after Gittens adjourned the session Wednesday to decide on the rearrangement of positions.
Gittens, Frett-Gregory, Sen. Oakland Benta, Sen. Athneil Thomas, and Sen. Stedman Hodge all did not vote on the rearrangement.
“I know why the people elected me and I am going to stand up for them, that’s my job,” Frett-Gregory said. “I will continue to be committed to the work at the Legislature and continue to work for the public’s best interest.”