Puerto Rico Senate approves Dr. Eligio Hernández Pérez as acting Education secretary
Acting Secretary Álamo had requested his nomination withdrawn
SAN JUAN – In a voice vote, Puerto Rico lawmakers approved Monday Senate Resolution 1038, appointing Dr. Eligio Hernández Pérez, who serves as deputy secretary of the Department of Education as interim department secretary.
The 20-9 vote, the Senate said in a release, came after the governor submitted the appointment in the afternoon after speaking over the weekend and Monday morning with Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz.
“Today, some people hoped or expected a war between the governor and the Senate. They hoped there was a great fight and what there was, was a cordial, affectionate, respectful dialogue that had the final result of doing things correctly and adequately and that is why I congratulate the governor of Puerto Rico…. We are trying to ensure that the [Education Department] is not put on pause and maintains its proper pace of work,” Rivera Schatz said.
“If eventually, there were to be indications and accusations against any official, contractor, then, colleagues, they will have to answer because nobody is above the law,” Rivera Schatz said in the chamber, referring to allegations that Hernández Pérez was involved in the so-called “WhatsApp chat scandal” in which the former president of the State Elections Commission and former Judge Rafael Ramos Sáenz participated.
Rosselló had announced earlier Monday the withdrawal of the appointment of Prof. Eleuterio Álamo Fernández as secretary of the Department of Education.
The governor’s office, La Fortaleza, said the petition was made by the nominee himself.
“Amid said request, I accede to it and request the president of the Senate that the appointment of Prof. Álamo to the post he was nominated be withdrawn from all legislative procedures,” the governor said.
Another appointment would be sent to the Senate, La Fortaleza added.
“The education of our children and the calm environment that must prevail among the teachers is essential for the effective operation of the Department of Education,” the governor said in the statement.
“Today with the determination for the undersecretary, with the consent of the Senate, to remain interim as head of the [department], a blank check is not given. This is an interim, temporary procedure for the governor to select a person…with the capacity to handle the Department of Education of Puerto Rico,” said the Senate president, who objected some minority senators’ call for the nomination to be postponed.
Gov rejects allegations
Rosselló insisted Monday that allegations about his brother Jay’s ties to Puerto Rico’s former Education secretary were false.
“My brother is a non-equity partner. That means he does not benefit directly from the transactions made by the firm. Number two: My brother is not, nor has he been a government contractor,” Rosselló said at a press conference Monday.
The governor mentioned that, following the accusations, he requested seeing any and all documents in which his brother could be found in relation to Hogan, Marren, Babbo & Rose contracts with the Department of Education.
“My brother has worked in this firm at what is known in numerous firms as a back office, to translate documents from English to Spanish and vice versa. He is the only bilingual lawyer at that firm. And that’s why he has billed that firm for those jobs,” the governor said.
He insisted his brother has not benefited, in any way.
“The problem is the suggestion that this is improper. And I reject that…they are throwing mud at a man who is an excellent professional,” he said.
Regarding former Education Secretary Julia Keleher, the governor said he was not aware that she was being investigated. He also called allegations that former official Elías Sánchez Sifontes influenced the appointment of Keleher a tall tale.
As for calls that the awarding process for the island’s new charter schools be halted and that school closings be investigated, Rosselló insisted those decisions were made as part of his administration’s public policy and were not solely decisions by Keleher.
–CyberNews contributed to this report.