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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, May 27, 2024
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Francois Nomination Moves on to Full Senate

After four hours of peppering Conrad "Ricky" Francois II with questions about everything ranging from his past work experience to ongoing Lottery investigations, members of the Senate Rules Committee moved his nomination to lead the agency onto the full legislative body for a final vote.
Francois has been serving as Lottery’s executive director since mid-May.
During a marathon meeting that stretched into the late hours of Wednesday night, Rules and Judiciary Committee members focused first on Francois’ tenure as head of the V.I. Housing Authority and tried to figure out why control of the agency switched over to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2003.
Francois said after working at the authority for 12 years he was "tired," and voluntarily left his post in 2002. At that time, it didn’t appear that the threat of federal receivership was on the horizon, he added.
"We did have a continuing cash flow problem mainly precipitated by Hurricane Marilyn and the hurricane recovery program we implemented," Francois added, saying that the local government was also "slow" in reimbursing the authority for money spent on an emergency construction project in Estate Nazareth.
"The agency failed its financial indicators because it didn’t file its report with HUD the following September," he explained. "We got pegged as a troubled agency, but normally, that triggers assistance from HUD. It’s unusual to be immediately placed in receivership."
Francois said the authority was also tagged as a troubled agency when he took over in 1990, and that he was able to turn things around. Senators urged him to do the same thing at Lottery, which has recently become embroiled in a legal battle with Southland Gaming of the Virgin Islands over about $20 million in video lottery terminal revenues the company could owe the local government.
Southland officials have denied the claims and recently filed a motion in V.I. Superior Court to dismiss the suit. Meanwhile, Francois said he is in the process of working with Southland to get Lottery access to the company’s central system, which monitors VLT operations. Both sides should be meeting next week to discuss the specifics of installing a second management terminal and training initiatives for the staff, he added.
"Once we have access to the system, we can test the voracity of its financial reporting capabilities," Francois said.
Lottery is also the subject of a Justice Department investigation into unsold prize-winning tickets that were "removed" from the agency’s office and sold on St. Croix.
"Once it was brought to my attention this was happening, we immediately started looking into it," he said, adding that Lottery had lost less than $100,000.
Outbursts by Sen. Celestino White Sr. over "illegal" activities that were going on "in plain view" at Lottery prompted a continuous stream of commentary over the system’s operations and what needs to be done to better regulate them. And when a question from Sen. Sammuel Sanes about whether there is "fraud going on" at Lottery was not answered with a "yes" or "no," senators asked whether Francois thought he was ready for the job.
"I believe so, yes," he responded. Francois said earlier that there is a possibility of fraud within the department, and said later in the meeting that there are certain questions he wasn’t able to answer in detail because of the ongoing court case and investigation.
But he did say his goals for Lottery include putting in place a sound financial management system, meeting with local dealers to try to address their concerns, implementing salary increases for employees and finding the agency some better office space.
Voting to forward on the nomination with a favorable recommendation were Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Neville James, Patrick Simeon Sprauve, Michael Thurland and White.
Sen. Usie R. Richards cast the dissenting vote, saying he was "disappointed" Francois had not detailed what he had accomplished at Lottery over the past 60 days and what his plans were to tackle the agency’s many challenges.
With the nomination taken care of, senators breezed through the rest of their evening agenda, sending onto the full body bills that would:
• Implement several election reforms, including: requiring candidates be seated by the party identification under which they filed their candidacy for office; increasing the penalty for any employer refusing to allow an employee time off to vote from the current $50 up to $5,000; and allowing the superintendent of elections simply to post a notice about the casting of lots for ballot position in the newspaper, rather than mailing a notice to each candidate, among other things;
• Allow senior citizens and the disabled to ride the public VITRAN bus system for free;
• Make 68 employees of the Manassah Bus Co., now known as VITRAN, full-time government employees;
• Grant administrative leave to government employees attending board and commission meetings;
• Require motor vehicle owners looking to ship their cars to present a valid registration to a shipping carrier, which must also give a list of all transported vehicles to the Motor Vehicle Bureau each quarter; and
• Mandate the Economic Development Authority copy the Legislature on all recommendations and reports granting EDC tax benefits.
Senators permanently tabled a bill preventing dropouts from getting a driver’s license until they turn 18 and held in a committee a bill prohibiting the possession of semiautomatic and automatic weapons.
Present during Wednesday night’s meeting were Dowe, James, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Richards, Sprauve, Thurland and White.

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