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Constitutional Convention an Issue of Ready or Not

Dec. 19, 2005 – The Legislature's recent vote to postpone the Constitutional Convention until 2007 provoked a dramatic reaction from people on St. Croix.
A two-page, full-color center spread in the Dec. 18-19 Avis newspaper headed Don't Kill the Constitutional Convention frames a letter to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull urging him to veto the action taken by the Legislature. In last Thursday's full Senate session, the senators approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. Louis Hill to postpone the convention until 2007.
Hill said on the floor that holding the convention in an election year would not give it the credibility and seriousness it requires. He said that the public has not received enough education on the convention, the delegates to which are to be voted on in a special election Feb. 14, 2006.
The unsigned ad takes Hill and the Legislature to task. It accuses Hill of lying on the Senate floor.
Rena Brodhurst, Avis publisher, said Monday that St. Croix attorney Joel L. Holt had placed the ad.
When contacted by phone Monday, Holt said, "It is about the convention; it is not about me."
Holt said he may run as a convention delegate, but he has not yet decided. As for the ad, Holt didn’t comment on why he didn’t sign it.
The ad concludes it is, "On behalf of the 35 people who have already picked up their Constitutional Convention packages from the election system, their supporters and all the people of the Virgin Islands."
The ad says, in part "…in the dead of the night, Sen. Louis Hill and a majority of his colleagues voted to postpone the scheduled 2006 Constitutional Convention." It continues, "Why would Hill resort to letting falsehoods fly from his lips on the floor of the Legislature in order to convince his colleagues to join him in killing the 2006 Constitutional Convention?"
Holt maintains, as he said in the ad, that Hill had said on the Senate floor that "the Board of Elections was not ready to hold the elections in February for the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, but the Board of Elections has confirmed that everything is in place to proceed with these elections."
Hill denied saying that, and said he was aghast at the ad.
"I take a strong objection to portraying me as lying on the Senate floor, and I categorically deny telling any lies," he said. "It is completely untrue and bordering on libel. I am speaking to my legal counsel on whether to seek court action against the paper and whoever placed the ad."
Hill said he is planning to voice his comments on radio programs over the next couple days.
"The last thing I want to do is 'kill' the convention," Hill said. "That's ridiculous."
Hill said he had spoken with Board of Election members on a retreat they held at the Westin Resort on St. John last year.
"I never said that the board was not ready to hold the election," Hill said Monday. "What I said on the floor was that the board essentially agreed with my position; that the convention should be postponed. In fact, one of the members told me he would come before the Legislature and testify to that effect."
Meanwhile, Supervisor of Elections John Abramson said Monday that the board voted not to take any formal position on the issue.
However, St. Croix Board of Elections chairman Rupert Ross said the board, at its retreat last August, decided to not take any position whatsoever.
"Our job is to promote the laws," Ross said. "As soon as they decided what they want done, the policy of the joint board agreed to last August is whatever the law states, the board will implement.
"We will take steps necessary to do that. We are prepared to proceed, if the governor vetoes the legislation; or, if he does not, we are prepared to put everything on hold."

Not Ready
Hill said holding the convention in an election year would not give it the credibility and seriousness it requires. He said his position is that the electorate right now is not completely aware of all the issues involved in the convention.
"They don't have all the information they need to make an educated decision on this issue," he said.
He recommended a series of public meetings where it can be discussed. His legislation includes a $100,000 appropriation to the University of the Virgin Islands for an education campaign.
"For one thing, the whole process right now is very short," Basil Ottley, Hill's chief of staff, said Monday. "It would be decided in four months' time. The convention would convene March 28, and submit a draft July 27. They have to hire staff, review delegates, travel between islands, and none of these people likely has ever worked with one another before."
Hill has said he wants public meetings to ensure that the populace has a full understanding of what kind of government we have now, and the process necessary to develop a proper constitution for the territory.
Abramson said Monday that 40 people have picked up the convention delegate packages for the St. Croix district, and six for an at-large seat; in the St. Thomas-St. John district, he said, nine people have picked up packages for the district, and six for an at-large seat.
Virgin Islands residents have made four previous attempts – in 1965, 1972, 1978 and 1980 – to write their own constitution. All have failed.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed into law in October legislation calling for a fifth Constitutional Convention to convene in 2006. It would create a document to replace the Revised Organic Act of 1954. Turnbull has been a delegate at all four conventions.
At its completion, the constitution would be forwarded to the governor for approval, the president of the United States and Congress. After that, if approved on all levels, it would be put to the voters.
Past conventions have failed to get the approval of voters (although Congress has acted on a few reforms proposed in the constitution drafts, such as the1965 proposal resulting in an elected governor). For a detailed history of previous conventions, see Constitutional Conventions: What's Gone Before.

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