With inauguration a week away, the territory is already seeing some shakeups in government, with confirmation Tuesday that the commissioners of both Planning and Natural Resources and the Police Department are retiring at the end of the year.
Government House confirmed the retirements of commissioners Robert Mathes and Novelle Francis Jr. in a release issued late Tuesday night.
"Although I understand and respect the decision of Commissioner Francis and that of Commissioner Mathes to retire at this time, their departures will be a significant loss to my administration," Gov. John deJongh Jr. said in the release. "I wish them each health and success in what I trust will be many years of retirement."
DeJongh added that both men deserve the community’s "thanks and appreciation" after serving the territory with "distinction" for many years.
In his statement Tuesday, deJongh described Mathes as a "personal friend" for many years.
"I appreciate the many contributions he has made to the people of the Virgin Islands since taking the helm at DPNR four years ago and in his years of public service before then," the governor said.
Assistant DPNR Commissioner Carmelo Rivera will serve as acting commissioner beginning Jan. 1, 2011.
After working his way up in the department, Francis was tapped to lead VIPD in May 2009, replacing then-Commissioner James McCall who took a position with the Justice Department.
In his statement Tuesday, deJongh said Francis took over the helm at a "particularly difficult time" and under his leadership, changes were made "that facilitated the department’s recent success in attacking the criminal element head on."
VIPD leadership came under fire after 2009 rounded out with a record 54 homicides.
Speaking Tuesday night, Francis said choosing to retire after 24 years of service was a difficult decision necessitated by "personal and family reasons."
"I do feel like it’s time for me," he said. "It was difficult, but I feel like I’m leaving at the high point of my career."
Francis said his time in the "hot seat" has been challenging, but that he has been able to accomplish a lot, including increasing the number of arrests for murders to 73 percent, starting the VIPD’s first tactical anti-gang unit and hiring the department’s first psychologist. He said VIPD is still dealing with mandates of its consent decree with the federal Department of Justice, and will continue to work on some of the policy issues over the next few months.
Francis will continue to serve as commissioner until a replacement is found. At this point, he said, there is no one waiting in the wings, but the search is on.