Tourism Commissioner-designate Michael Bornn has declined to sign a contract to pay Dahlia Magras, wife of his predecessor, Clement "Cain" Magras, $55,000 a year for four years to market the territory as a travel destination in the state of Florida.
The contract was reportedly left behind on the Tourism commissioner's desk when the Magrases moved to Orlando, Fla., earlier this summer.
Two informed sources within the Tourism Department told the St. Thomas Source separately that the contract came across Bornn's desk for his signature during his first days on the job last week. One said Cain Magras had left the document for acting commissioner Monique Sibilly-Hodge to sign, but she informed him she would have to check with Gov. Charles Turnbull before doing so.
Asked Sunday evening whether he had been given such a contract, Bornn told The Source, "That is true, and I did not sign it."
Efforts to reach the Magrases at the telephone number in the Orlando area provided by a family member were unsuccessful. Information for the area code has no listing in their name.
At a meeting Friday with the St. Croix Hotel and Tourism Association, Bornn said he had voided three contracts that came to his desk and this represented a savings to the government of about $700,000.
At $55,000 a year for four years, the contract for Dahlia Magras would have been worth $220,000.
The other contracts, according to one Tourism source, were with Global Strategic Marketing, to research, study and design a marketing strategy for the territory for $300,000, and with Online Productions, to attract special events, notably the recent Sinbad's Soul Music Festival, to the Virgin Islands for $180,000, with $40,000 of that amount already paid out.
Bornn confirmed by telephone Sunday evening that he also declined to sign the research contract and canceled the special events agreement. "That is correct," he said.
After being nominated last spring by Gov. Charles Turnbull to head the Tourism Department, Cain Magras assumed the duties of office as commissioner-designate. During his three months in that capacity, the former senator, Licensing and Consumer Affairs commissioner and Senate executive director came under fire on several fronts.
Business critics on St. Croix accused him of not being committed to promoting their island. Opponents throughout the territory argued that he lacked expertise and experience in the hospitality industry and in marketing. And longtime Tourism employee Heather Carty filed sexual harassment charges against him with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, then filed further charges alleging harassment and slander stemming from her earlier claim.
The Senate rejected the Magras nomination June 17; the following day, the governor named assistant commissioner Monique Sibilly-Hodge to serve as acting commissioner.
On July 28, Turnbull's choice of Bornn as his new nominee was announced. Bornn, a principal in Seslia Securities and co-founder of the V.I. America's Cup Challenge, began work as commissioner-designate last week.
In his first days on the job, Bornn emphasized repeatedly in media interviews and meetings with tourism industry groups that he is approaching the commissioner's post from a private-sector perspective. He told The Source on Sunday that he plans to meet soon with all Tourism employees "to discuss coming cost-cutting measures."