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Constitutional Convention Delegates Have Failed the People

Dear Source:
It is enlightening that so many citizens are now making comment on the recent plenary sessions held by the Constitutional delegates. The delegation has a little more than a week to complete the document and it appears that they will fail to make the announced but precarious deadline date of Oct. 6. This date represents an extension from the original July 27 date for completion. Then what will happen? Will the delegates simply go home, or will another extension be granted by the legislature? It seems that past and recent citizen input has had no effect on the ability of the delegates to come to any conclusions on almost any matter before them. The squabbling and unprofessional behavior shown by this group has become legendary. Of the 12 Constitutional Committees, only a few have been able to complete their tasks. Regardless of time limits and extensions, it has become abundantly clear that this group of elected delegates have utterly failed the people of the Virgin Islands.
The infighting, lack of quorums, philosophical differences, inability to grasp even basic constitutional realities and personal conflicts have combined to create what one can only describe as a dysfunctional entity. But it didn't have to be that way.
Most Virgin Islanders know that the Convention was delayed three months over a court battle for the right of a Constitutional candidate to sit. The legislature, wisely, allowed an extension to make up the lost time. About halfway through the Convention, things began to unravel, lack of quorums became the norm. Infighting was prevalent and sides were drawn over fundamentals. The ability of the Convention to gel into a cohesive unit was lost early into the debate. In short, the delegates sealed their own fate of failure, even though several delegates attempted but failed to keep the group on task. Leadership was lacking and personal philosophies took over every meeting. I believe most just gave up. If the delegation had stronger leadership, things could have been different.
In my opinion, writing a Constitution is a sacred duty given to a fortunate few in their lifetime. Dedication to a task which would affect the lives of more than 100,000 people, with millions more to come in the future, should have been reason enough to take the task seriously. Instead, it became a philosophical battleground. The leadership of this attempt was saddled with a legislative mandate which required them to utilize the wording of a failed document as the basis of their debate. This should never have occurred. Standing committees should have been fewer and the tasks of these committees should have been better defined by the delegation president. The need for massive amounts of money to write this document was an ill-conceived notion, and it caused the delegation to be delayed even further. I believe the document could have been written by August of 2008 if the following had occurred:
The people should have elected 60 delegates with five alternates. The Convention leadership should have decided early on that the delegation would meet as a continuous body. This means daily committee meetings. The number of committees should have been limited to no more than eight with seven members each. There would be no multi-commitments — delegates would be assigned to one committee only. Committees would meet every day for three continuous weeks on each island to hear public input. Any delegate who missed more than three meetings at any time would have been ejected and an alternate put in place. Each committee would then meet for an additional three weeks to discuss citizen input. Finally, all delegates and alternates would meet for another three continuous weeks to hash out the committee reports. During this last time frame, the constitutional experts would have input. All this could take no more than five months to complete.
Would this be a hardship on the delegates? Yes, and if the arrangement was legislatively created, then only dedicated, sincere persons would run for the office of delegate. As it turns out, the attendance of the Fifth Constitution was regrettably low, the interest was lacking and the committees had no real guidance or vision of the future. A sad commentary indeed.
The document which this Fifth Constitutional Convention has attempted to create is a much poorer version of the failed fourth attempt. It demonstrates lack of vision for the future, the realities of the 21st century and does not consider the diversity of the people. In many instances, it cannot stand the United States constitutional test and cannot possibly pass muster at the presidential and congressional level. In short, it is doomed to failure, and it could have been prevented. Perhaps someday we will have a constitution for the Virgin Islands, but not this time around.

Paul Devine
St. John

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