- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 14, 2002

Two Republican members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission say they were denied the right to participate in an out-of-town meeting yesterday, contending commission officials reneged on a promise to provide a telephone hookup to the meeting.
Commissioners Abigail Thernstrom and Peter Kirsanow said the commission's special assistant, Alex Sun, said there would be a teleconference with the Wilmington, Del., meeting from the commission's Washington office. It was not hooked up when they arrived for the meeting.
"It's as if they put up a sign that said 'You are not wanted,'" said Mrs. Thernstrom.
Commission officials insisted there was never a firm offer for a teleconference and that the two commissioners simply misunderstood what they were told.
"We had no expectation that commissioners who wanted to attend the meeting would not be in Wilmington," said Nathea Lee, commission spokeswoman.
Ms. Lee also said officials didn't expect the board's four Republican appointees to attend. The four Republicans recently had threatened to boycott the meeting when Chairman Mary Frances Berry and the commission's staff refused to provide an agenda or a location for the meeting.
The failure of any of the Republicans to participate in the meeting prevented the commission from having the five-member quorum necessary to conduct any official business. The commission's four Democrats were present.
Phone hookups have been used when previous meetings were held out of town by the fact-finding agency of the executive branch
Reached yesterday, Mr. Sun denied that he assured the commissioners they would have phone access to the meeting in Wilmington. "I said possibly there could be a phone hookup on an as-needed basis," he said.
"It sounds like there was some miscommunication perhaps they misunderstood," Mr. Sun said.
Mrs. Thernstrom strongly denies she and Mr. Kirsanow misunderstood what they were told Thursday night about a teleconference.
"Peter Kirsanow is a very good lawyer, and he was talking on the phone to Alex Sun," she said.
She also said Mr. Sun told them Les Jin, the commission's staff director, canceled the phone hookup "because it would undermine the policy of having commissioners go out in the field" for meetings.
When the panel met in Miami in June and in Detroit in July, teleconferencing was used to allow staffers remaining in Washington to participate in the meetings.
Republican commissioners have accused Miss Berry of moving meetings out of Washington to avoid the scrutiny of news reporters and the House Judiciary Committee, both of which have criticized the civil rights commission.
Asked if she believes Miss Berry was involved in the decision not to provide speakerphones to the Republican commissioners, Mrs. Thernstrom said, "She's involved in everything."

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