- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

Four members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will boycott the eight-member panel's scheduled meeting on Sept. 13, preventing the panel from taking any official action.
The four Republican appointees Peter Kirsanow, Russell Redenbaugh, Abigail Thernstrom and Jennifer Braceras said yesterday that commission Chairman Mary Frances Berry and the commission's staff have refused to provide them with an agenda or a location for the meeting, which is to be held in Wilmington, Del.
"They are playing a loser's game now," said Mr. Redenbaugh, who was reappointed to his position in August by Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican.
"Without us, they have no quorum, and they cannot forward any civil rights agenda without our cooperation," Mr. Redenbaugh said. His appointment leveled the playing field at the panel, making it a 4-4 split between left- and right-leaning members.
Miss Berry and Les Jin, the commission's staff director, did not return calls yesterday.
At the commission's May meeting, Miss Berry, with a majority of commissioners supporting her, successfully moved that subsequent monthly meetings be held outside Washington, D.C., until further notice.
Mr. Jin at that time said that "the location of these commission meetings will be determined by the chair, after consultation with the staff director, and announced at least one month in advance."
Since then, meetings have been in Miami, where commissioners heard testimony on election reform developed after the 2000 election, and in Detroit, where commissioners discussed post-September 11 issues with members of the city's sizable Middle Eastern community.
But the Wilmington meeting, announced during the August break, had no discussion and no apparent purpose, which puzzled some commissioners.
Republican commissioners accused Miss Berry of moving meetings out of the panel's office in Washington to avoid the scrutiny of the media and the House Judiciary Committee, both of which have been critical of the commission.
"We have no objection to going on the road," Miss Braceras said. "But I do object to spending taxpayer money so that [Miss Berry] can hide from public scrutiny and public oversight."
She said her office received information from the staff that the Miami trip cost $28,000 to transport staff and conduct business.
"I really can find no reason for conducting these meetings out of the office," Miss Braceras said.
Mrs. Thernstrom said she has asked for information on the upcoming meeting for more than a month.
"I know nothing about this meeting because the staff has not responded to my requests for information on it," Mrs. Thernstrom said. "Why are we even going to Wilmington? Nobody will answer this for us, and we have asked repeatedly."
One of the four Democratic commissioners said he has not yet received his agenda, either, and questioned the motives of some of his Republican colleagues.
"I have some doubts as to the veracity of their claims," commissioner Cruz Reynoso said.
"We are proceeding in the way we have since I have been a commissioner, since 1993," he added
He said he has been told of the meeting place. "And I expect my agenda will arrive in the next few days, and I have already booked my travel plans," he said.
Mr. Reynoso added that the commissioners are sworn to carry out their duties of office.
"Perhaps they don't take that seriously," Mr. Reynoso said.
The commission, a fact-finding agency of the executive branch established under the Civil Rights Act of 1957, cannot officially pass resolutions or approve reports without a quorum of at least five members.
For several years, Democratic appointees have outnumbered Republicans, resulting in a lopsided agenda that, some critics say, has diluted the independent, bipartisan mission of the commission.
But the composition of the commission changed in August with Mr. Redenbaugh's appointment, bringing the panel into compliance with an original mandate of equal representation by Democratic- and Republican-leaning members.
"All we want now is to act as a responsible agency," Mr. Kirsanow said. By refusing to attend next week's meeting, the bloc of commissioners is not trying to obstruct the process, he said, but to get equal input into issues.
"We are not trying to play games or pull stunts," he said. "We are now 4-4, and we expect we can have a vote when we are going to hold a meeting out of town. That may have been the case when this commission was 6-2 or 5-3, but it is now 4-4."

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