Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has withdrawn the nomination of Michael Bornn to be Tourism commissioner, effective immediately.
According to Bornn, Turnbull told him Thursday afternoon that he couldn't work with him. Bornn said his public criticism of Turnbull's plan to float $130 million in bonds was the last straw for the governor.
The governor in a subsequent press release agreed with Bornn's assessment.
Bornn "actively opposed the bond issue initiative of the administration even to the extent of openly lobbying members of the Legislature to vote against the measure," Turnbull said in a late-night release. "This is only one of the flagrant actions of acting Commissioner Bornn contrary to my wishes and intent."
Turnbull named Assistant Commissioner Monique Sibilly Hodge as acting commissioner, a position she held prior to Bornn's nomination.
Turnbull said he made his decision about Bornn "after much pondering and consideration."
No top official "can be permitted to circumvent the policy directives of the governor," he said.
Calling Bornn "very brilliant and capable," he wished him well.
Bornn has been outspoken — even occasionally strident — about what the government and the tourism industry need to do in order to attract more visitors and boost tourism revenues.
The business community, particularly hoteliers, have applauded Bornn's candor and the direction in which he was taking the department. He also sailed through the Senate Rules Committee during its confirmation hearings.
"I know I could add tremendous value to the Virgin Islands," Bornn said. "However, the political establishment is not prepared to deal with the truth [or to]implement the changes necessary to ensure a vibrant economy and society."
The announcement of Bornn's ouster dismayed many people in the hotel business.
St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association president Richard Doumeng said, "I hope it's not true." He added, "If we now tell our travel partners, who are already deeply concerned about our government's ability to market the territory, that there will be a fourth name placed as Tourism commissioner in 12 months, it will be another blow to our credibility."
Doumeng said the situation "once again underscores the absolute need to de-politicize the Department of Tourism. The lifeblood of this economy should not be held hostage to the political process."
A year ago, Wylie Whisonant was Tourism commissioner in the Roy L. Schneider administration. Turnbull nominated Clement "Cain" Magras for the position, but Magras was rejected by the Legislature in April. Bornn's nomination was submitted in early August and was approved by the Rules Committee on Sept. 21.
Renaissance Grand Beach Resort general manager John Murphy said, "I think this is a tragic sequence of events for our tourism industry, especially at this critical time at the beginning of season."
He called the withdrawal of Bornn's nomination "a serious blow to our hopes and aspirations of the past two months."
Murphy expressed doubt that anyone could step into the position at this point. "I believe Michael had the leadership skills and the academic base to take tourism where it needs to go," he said.
Asked what he was going to do next, Bornn said, "I'm going to go back to making money."
Bornn will return to his position at Seslia Securities where he is an investment counselor.
No one at Government House could be reached for comment.


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