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Constitutional Convention Delegates Pledge Cooperative Effort

Oct. 29, 2007 — Pledging to be fair and represent the collective interests of the people of the Virgin Islands, the 30 delegates to the Fifth Constitutional Convention were sworn in early Monday morning in ceremonies at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Chambers on St. Thomas.
While a large group of community and family members turned out for the occasion, several vacant seats in the chambers prompted the delegates to talk about promoting the importance of the convention and the need for residents — who will eventually have to vote to approve the constitution — to get involved in the process.
"It is important to point out that none of the previous Constitutional Conventions failed," said convention delegate and former governor Charles W. Turnbull. "Provisions from each of those drafts were later enacted into law by either the federal or local governments. What we failed to do is get the electorate to approve the document, and there are lessons to be learned from that."
Echoing Turnbull's remarks, other delegates urged voters to bring them suggestions about what kind of issues they would like to see addressed within the proposal.
"We're planning on making this convention process the final trial, and then put it to rest," said convention Delegate Gerard "Luz" James II. "So we're asking the voters of the territory for their humble participation. Give us your views, in whatever form or fashion. And to make the process easier, we plan to have a drop box for comments in all districts. Public relations, in this matter, are of the utmost importance. We have to sell this Fifth Constitutional Convention — it has to be brought to everyone, in every neighborhood and every home."
V.I. Superior Court Judge Audrey Thomas administered the oath of office. The delegates then unanimously approved, as their first order of business, a resolution establishing the convention's rules and administrative officers. James was selected to be the convention's president, while Lawrence "Larry" Sewer was selected to serve as vice president. Rounding out the list of convention officers are:
— Secretary: Gerard Emanuel;
— Assistant Secretary: Elsie V. Thomas-Trotman;
— Treasurer: Mario Francis;
— Assistant Treasurer: Violet Anne Golden;
— Sergeant at Arms: Stedmann Hodge Jr.; and
— Assistant Sergeant at Arms: Kendall Petersen.
While speaking about the need for more public involvement, some delegates also discussed issues they would like to see incorporated into the document — including the need to make sure the rights of native Virgin Islanders are preserved.
"I have not strayed in my position in any way, and I have not come here to compromise anything," said Delegate Adelbert M. Bryan. "This is my ancestral home, and prior to the Organic Act, this population that looks like me was living in slavery and oppression. If that's not going to be addressed in this document, then we're wasting our time."
While other delegates supported Bryan's remarks, many also said they plan to embark on the convention process with an "open mind." The creation of a constitution should not be used to pit one island or district against another, they said, but rather used to unite and protect the territory and its diverse population.
"We plan to sit down and write a constitution," said Delegate Clement "Cain" Magras. "We are many cultures here, but we all have once future, and we must keep that in mind as we move forward. We must unite our people and keep them together with this constitution. All of us here, we're facing an awesome task. But remember that this task is not about us: It's about our children, and our children's children."
Many delegates added that a local constitution would build a stronger foundation for the territory, one that would define the Virgin Islands' relationship with the United States. However, Delegate Thomas Moore reminded residents that the document would not sever the territory's ties to the mainland, but rather strengthen them.
Moore added that he hoped the delegates would be able to reach a consensus or compromise on the myriad issues before them — particularly controversial ones such as native rights.
"The time has long since passed for the Virgin Islands to replace the old Organic Act," he said. "And the success of a constitution will be based on three items: respecting the vast traditions of the Virgin Islands, assuring the opportunity for Virgin Islanders to thrive and succeed and ensuring the full constitutional rights of all citizens of the Virgin Islands."
Despite the differing viewpoints, many delegates seemed confident that this group would be able to produce a document that could be approved by a majority of the territory's voters.
"We're going to craft a document that's finally going to do good by our people and change the way we have done business for a long time," promised Delegate Violet Anne Golden. "And there's going to be change. I don't want anyone to think there's not going to be, because I know we plan on fighting for the kind of change that is necessary for us to have some equity in the Virgin Islands."
Added delegate Arturo Watlington Jr., "We have to put aside our personal differences and bias and work together, for a majority of the people — whether they are native to these shores or not."
Wrapping up the delegates' comments, James added that the group is proud to follow in the footsteps of previous convention delegates, and draw upon their ideas.
"Still, we want to make sure that whatever we do, it will be recorded that the Fifth Constitutional Convention did the work," he said. "They sat as a group, with different ideas and being from different backgrounds, but were actually able to accomplish the task that was given to them. That's what will be most important."
Closing out to thunderous applause from his fellow delegates and the audience, James adjourned the meeting around 11:45 a.m.
"We will adjourn until the chair calls the next meeting," he said. "Congratulations to the delegates, and good luck."
When contacted late last week, Senate President Usie R. Richards said the original constitution statute, which had scheduled the delegates' swearing- in ceremonies for July, had timed the final vote on the document with next year's senatorial elections. Though Richards said the delegates have indicated they should still be able to meet that deadline, he also explained that the constitution would first have to be reviewed and ratified by both the U.S. Congress and the President of the United States before coming back to the territory for a final vote.
The convention was delayed about three months because of an extended court battle between St. John resident Harry Daniel and local board of elections members. The lawsuit was dismissed late last month by a panel of V.I. Supreme Court Justices. Daniel's subsequent plea for the panel to reconsider its ruling was also shot down a few weeks later, prompting his decision not to take the case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
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Oct. 29, 2007 -- Pledging to be fair and represent the collective interests of the people of the Virgin Islands, the 30 delegates to the Fifth Constitutional Convention were sworn in early Monday morning in ceremonies at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Chambers on St. Thomas.
While a large group of community and family members turned out for the occasion, several vacant seats in the chambers prompted the delegates to talk about promoting the importance of the convention and the need for residents -- who will eventually have to vote to approve the constitution -- to get involved in the process.
"It is important to point out that none of the previous Constitutional Conventions failed," said convention delegate and former governor Charles W. Turnbull. "Provisions from each of those drafts were later enacted into law by either the federal or local governments. What we failed to do is get the electorate to approve the document, and there are lessons to be learned from that."
Echoing Turnbull's remarks, other delegates urged voters to bring them suggestions about what kind of issues they would like to see addressed within the proposal.
"We're planning on making this convention process the final trial, and then put it to rest," said convention Delegate Gerard "Luz" James II. "So we're asking the voters of the territory for their humble participation. Give us your views, in whatever form or fashion. And to make the process easier, we plan to have a drop box for comments in all districts. Public relations, in this matter, are of the utmost importance. We have to sell this Fifth Constitutional Convention -- it has to be brought to everyone, in every neighborhood and every home."
V.I. Superior Court Judge Audrey Thomas administered the oath of office. The delegates then unanimously approved, as their first order of business, a resolution establishing the convention's rules and administrative officers. James was selected to be the convention's president, while Lawrence "Larry" Sewer was selected to serve as vice president. Rounding out the list of convention officers are:
-- Secretary: Gerard Emanuel;
-- Assistant Secretary: Elsie V. Thomas-Trotman;
-- Treasurer: Mario Francis;
-- Assistant Treasurer: Violet Anne Golden;
-- Sergeant at Arms: Stedmann Hodge Jr.; and
-- Assistant Sergeant at Arms: Kendall Petersen.
While speaking about the need for more public involvement, some delegates also discussed issues they would like to see incorporated into the document -- including the need to make sure the rights of native Virgin Islanders are preserved.
"I have not strayed in my position in any way, and I have not come here to compromise anything," said Delegate Adelbert M. Bryan. "This is my ancestral home, and prior to the Organic Act, this population that looks like me was living in slavery and oppression. If that's not going to be addressed in this document, then we're wasting our time."
While other delegates supported Bryan's remarks, many also said they plan to embark on the convention process with an "open mind." The creation of a constitution should not be used to pit one island or district against another, they said, but rather used to unite and protect the territory and its diverse population.
"We plan to sit down and write a constitution," said Delegate Clement "Cain" Magras. "We are many cultures here, but we all have once future, and we must keep that in mind as we move forward. We must unite our people and keep them together with this constitution. All of us here, we're facing an awesome task. But remember that this task is not about us: It's about our children, and our children's children."
Many delegates added that a local constitution would build a stronger foundation for the territory, one that would define the Virgin Islands' relationship with the United States. However, Delegate Thomas Moore reminded residents that the document would not sever the territory's ties to the mainland, but rather strengthen them.
Moore added that he hoped the delegates would be able to reach a consensus or compromise on the myriad issues before them -- particularly controversial ones such as native rights.
"The time has long since passed for the Virgin Islands to replace the old Organic Act," he said. "And the success of a constitution will be based on three items: respecting the vast traditions of the Virgin Islands, assuring the opportunity for Virgin Islanders to thrive and succeed and ensuring the full constitutional rights of all citizens of the Virgin Islands."
Despite the differing viewpoints, many delegates seemed confident that this group would be able to produce a document that could be approved by a majority of the territory's voters.
"We're going to craft a document that's finally going to do good by our people and change the way we have done business for a long time," promised Delegate Violet Anne Golden. "And there's going to be change. I don't want anyone to think there's not going to be, because I know we plan on fighting for the kind of change that is necessary for us to have some equity in the Virgin Islands."
Added delegate Arturo Watlington Jr., "We have to put aside our personal differences and bias and work together, for a majority of the people -- whether they are native to these shores or not."
Wrapping up the delegates' comments, James added that the group is proud to follow in the footsteps of previous convention delegates, and draw upon their ideas.
"Still, we want to make sure that whatever we do, it will be recorded that the Fifth Constitutional Convention did the work," he said. "They sat as a group, with different ideas and being from different backgrounds, but were actually able to accomplish the task that was given to them. That's what will be most important."
Closing out to thunderous applause from his fellow delegates and the audience, James adjourned the meeting around 11:45 a.m.
"We will adjourn until the chair calls the next meeting," he said. "Congratulations to the delegates, and good luck."
When contacted late last week, Senate President Usie R. Richards said the original constitution statute, which had scheduled the delegates' swearing- in ceremonies for July, had timed the final vote on the document with next year's senatorial elections. Though Richards said the delegates have indicated they should still be able to meet that deadline, he also explained that the constitution would first have to be reviewed and ratified by both the U.S. Congress and the President of the United States before coming back to the territory for a final vote.
The convention was delayed about three months because of an extended court battle between St. John resident Harry Daniel and local board of elections members. The lawsuit was dismissed late last month by a panel of V.I. Supreme Court Justices. Daniel's subsequent plea for the panel to reconsider its ruling was also shot down a few weeks later, prompting his decision not to take the case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.