Delegates to the D.C. statehood constitutional convention held their first business session yesterday and became bogged down almost immediately in wrangling over procedure and the day's agenda.
With temporary chairman Lillian Huff presiding, the 45 delegates in the City Council chambers in the District Building argued over the order of agenda items and over proposals on how the 90-day, $150,000 convention will go about writing a constitution for the city--the first formal step toward possible statehood.
"If this is what we're going to be doing," said Ward 5 delegate Talmadge Moore after more than four hours of parliamentary bickering and little headway, "I'm greatly disappointed."
Members of various preconvention committees distributed reports recommending procedures for adoption as permanent convention rules. The proposals probably will be voted on later this week.
Among key proposals were procedures requiring unusually large majority votes for adopting articles for the constitution and a provision that the president and other officers of the convention be elected by roll call vote rather than secret ballot.
The strict article adoption proposal, written by a preconvention rules committee headed by Ward 6 delegate Charlotte Holmes, would require that an article be approved by simple majority of a convention on first reading, then go to a style and drafting committee for editing. When it is reported back for a second reading, amendments generally could be made only by two-thirds of convention members present and voting.
After the articles are assembled into a complete constitutional document, a three-fourths majority vote would be required to amend it.
Such "extraordinary majority" requirements have occurred in some constitutional conventions in the past but others have imposed much easier rules for change.
There was grumbling among some delegates over the proposal to elect convention officers by roll call vote rather than secret ballot. Some said a public roll call would put pressure on delegates to vote for certain candidates against their will and invite reprisals if they did not. But, said Ward 4 delegate Janette Harris, chief advocate of the roll call vote, "It makes everybody accountable."
A preconvention "committee on committees" headed by at-large delegate Barbara Lett Simmons also proposed establishing 10 committees to draft articles for specific parts of the constitution, such as the preamble and bill of rights and sections describing how the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the new government would function.
The committee structure would require that each committee have nine members, one from each ward of the city and one at large. Simmons said this geographic distribution of members would help ensure that committees are not stacked with any one viewpoint. Under the proposal, each delegate would serve on two of the 10 committees.
The delegates voted to meet next at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Howard University Law School.