Shake up in the Puerto Rican Government
On Monday, January 8, it came to light that secretary of the government William Villafañe had requested the removal of the Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, José R. Izquierdo II. The President of the Board of Directors of the Tourism Company of Puerto Rico, Manuel Laboy Rivera, confirmed that Izquierdo II had been removed. Villafañe is quoted as having said that the reason for the removal was a loss of trust in his abilities. Janice Ramírez, the director of legal services for the company, has been placed as the interim director. Izquierdo served for nearly one year as the director, a relatively short time. The shake up is being characterized as a resignation, though many suspect it was a firing, given the other “resignations” that closely followed. The now former director was investigated by the Senate Appointment Committee last June for complaints over labor disputes and possible sexual misconduct, although the committee’s investigation ended in a report that expounded the professional and good character of Izquierdo II.
The same day, Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced that he had accepted the resignation of the Commissioner of the Police Bureau Michelle Hernández de Fraley. She was the first female to hold the position. In the last few months there has been significant tensions in the police department due to officers calling in sick to protest a lack of overtime pay. It has been estimated that the government has paid nearly $20 million of what is owed, but that it still owes another $35 million. Nearly 2,700 officers are calling in sick daily, compared to a usual 600. The lack of officers has led to a spike in crime, including a grizzly triple homicide and two double homicides. To fill the interim position, Rosselló appointed Lieutenant Colonel Henry Escalera as Acting Commissioner of the Police.
Monday was also the day that Rosselló announced the appointment of Rafael Ramos Saenz as the new president of the State Elections Commission (CEE).
The resignations and appointments were made at the same time that The Secretary of Public Affairs, Ramón Rosario Cortés, announced 5 reorganization plans under the New Government Law. The plans will affect 25 agencies and programs of the executive branch in an effort to consolidate the government. The first plan creates a Public Service Regulatory Board. The new board will combine the previous Telecommunications Regulatory Board, the Public Service Commission, the Energy Commission, the Energy Administration, and the Independent Office of Consumer Protection. The new Public Service Regulatory board will be directed by a single commissioner and be comprised of three commissions: telecommunication, transportation, and energy.
Other notable changes include the dissolution of the Council of Higher Education, whose duties and functions will be assumed by the Department of Education. The Labor Department will now have an Auxiliary Secretariat for Labor Relations. This new secretariat will take the cases previously dealt with by the Public Service Appeals Commission, the Labor Relations Board, and the Investigation, Prosecution and Appeals Commission.
The Industrial Tax Exemption Office, the State Energy Public Policy Office, the Regional Center Corporation, the Regional Center Corporation, and the Permit Management Office will be combined to create the new Department of Economic Development and Commerce. It will also take over the issuing of permits from the Authority for the Conservation and Development of Culebra. The Trade and Export Company and the Tourism Company will also be combined later on.
These changes and more will be passed to the Legislative Assembly for approval in the next 30 days.