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Who Qualifies as a Delegate to the Constitutional Convention? Subject Dominates Town Hall Meeting

May 16, 2007 — At a town hall meeting Wednesday night called by Sen. Ronald Russell, personal salvos were hurled over unresolved matters and the discussion was dominated by the topic of who should vote to adopt a V.I. constitution.
About 50 people showed up at the D.C. Canageta Multi-Purpose Center Wednesday night to voice their concerns about a controversial amendment proposed by Russell allowing anyone born in the Virgin Islands to vote on ratifying the V.I. constitution, regardless of where they live now.
Supervisor of Elections John Abramson has called that scenario "nightmarish" from an administrative point of view, and some in the community have called the amendment exclusionary. On the surface, it does not take into consideration individuals who are not born here but have vested interests, such as property ownership, in the territory.
Carole Wells, a New York native, said she has lived on the island for 22 years and knows nothing about New York and its problems.
"Should I be allowed to vote in New York for any changes on people there?" she asked.
While not responding directly, Russell noted, "I strongly believe that anybody who was born here should have that right. He added that while people choose to move to the Virgin Islands, a majority of those born here move elsewhere for better economic opportunities, and should be given the chance to be a part of changes in the territory.
Mary Roebuck believes that native-born Virgin Islanders should have the privilege of voting to adopt for a newly crafted V.I. constitution.
Roebuck, who was born in Puerto Rico, said she comes from a family of second-generation Roebucks, a well-known family name in the Virgin Islands, but said she doesn't believe that she is qualified to be a delegate to the constitutional convention.
"I would love the opportunity to run as a delegate, but I didn't feel I have the right," she said. "I welcome the fact that everyone will have an opportunity to vote, but when it comes to writing the constitution, I feel it should be someone whose bloodlines lie here, someone born here."
In response, Sen. Neville James said that while he was born in Harlem, "No one can tell me I'm not a Crucian." A delegate should be anyone "who has the best long-term interest in the Virgin Islands," he said.
The otherwise muted discussion picked up steam briefly when radio personality Roger W. Morgan, citing poor acoustics at the center, requested that Russell and James come on his show. Morgan hosts the morning show on Paradise 93.5 FM.
He requested that they come on to discuss the constitution and other subjects, such as the failed bid to get them and other senators recalled from office after they voted for hefty pay raises last year. While he credited Nelson for appearing on his show, Morgan said that Russell and James were not as receptive, and detailed instances where he said they had been less than courteous.
While not directly declining the invitation, both Russell and James responded that Morgan was divisive and did not represent the community's best interests.
When he did not vote for the raise but was still included in the recall bid, James said, "It led me to think it was more than a recall, but personal." He did not elaborate.
The senators also took time to defend themselves against charges of racism. Morgan asked why they failed to denounce statements on the Senate floor by Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville who, while referencing the recall attempt, likened Morgan and members of his mostly non-local listening audience to the Ku Klux Klan.
Russell and other senators presented a petition to the Federal Communications Commission to deny Morgan a license to operate. Morgan said Wednesday night that he has spent more than $40,000 fighting the charges that Russell and others presented in the petition.
"Hate is hate, and when it's transmitted over the radio to the public, as an elected official, I have the responsibility to dissuade the public from embracing that kind of hate," Russell said in response. At that point, some members of the audience stood up to yell "Am I a KKK?" with others calling on those standing up to sit down and "keep it civilized."
Calmer heads prevailed. Later, Roebuck told those in attendance that their voices can still be heard, and recommended that people submit comments or recommendations via the constitutional convention website. Officials from the University of the Virgin Islands, which is spearheading the education campaign leading up to the constitutional convention, have said that such comments will be shared with the delegates for consideration.
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