In a divided vote that recalled the squabbling Continental Congress, a two-vote majority of the Philadelphia-based U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission on Wednesday confirmed rules for debate and decision-making that strengthened the commission chair, outvoting critics who had framed the rules as a power grab.

The 24 voting members of the commission, appointed by President Trump in 2018 and confirmed in office by President Biden, are supposed to coordinate national and local celebrations to mark the 250th anniversary of U.S. independence in 2026.

Those voting “Yes” on Wednesday wanted a powerful chairman executing board-backed strategy through his top staff, as on a corporate board; “No” voters wanted to be able to raise issues and challenge decisions at every meeting, more like a nonprofit or local-government board.

Twelve commissioners, including Republican-appointed members such as U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), plus former U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and U.S. Ambassador to Canada David L. Cohen, who are Democrats — voted to adopt rules that would effectively consolidate the powers of the commission’s chairman, Philadelphia-area developer Daniel M. DiLella, to appoint senior officers and staff, approve travel and set contracts. They also approved bringing matters onto the board’s voting agenda through committees and board leaders, not directly from the floor at full board meetings.

Ten others — four Democrats serving in Congress, including U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) and Philadelphia-area Reps. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D., Mercer), along with a lone Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.), and five private citizens — voted against the changes. Two others did not vote.

The divided vote came despite the previous, unanimous approval of the new rules by the board’s governance committee, headed by Lynn Forney Young, president of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a group of descendants of people involved in the original independence effort.

The commission, supported by $20 million in federal money to date for staff recruiting and fund-raising, has been criticized even for taking $10 million from Facebook — without enough discussion, some members maintain.

Meanwhile the commission, its affiliated America250 Foundation, and a third nonprofit have been sued by four female executives who say they were subjected to a hostile workplace in which leaders rejected concerns about a male employee making questionable expenditures. Those suing are then-chief administration officer Renee Burchard, the foundation’s chief legal officer Kirsti Garlock, Anna Laymon, vice president of programs and planning, and Keri Potts, vice president of communications and public relations. The suit was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

DiLella, who chairs the commission and the foundation, has promised “a thorough, impartial investigation.”

The rules were adopted Wednesday, he said, because “we are trying to operate this as the business. The commission is a board of directors. They are not supposed to micro-manage the foundation. We set strategy. They [staff, volunteers and cooperating agencies] implement the plan. That’s how it works.”

But during Wednesday’s meeting, “there was no debate” about the rule changes, complained former U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, who was defeated by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), but was reappointed to the board by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and was one of the minority who voted against the rule changes.

Crowley, now a lobbyist in Washington, said that he and Rep. Aderholt held up signs during the meeting, which was conducted remotely by computer hook-up, requesting that they be allowed to comment on the vote, but were ignored. “I think this is the opposite of freedom of speech,” Crowley groused. “I think it’s very un-American.”

Crowley and others noted that an additional proposal, which would enable the chairman to retroactively approve decisions that managers made since 2018, was taken off the agenda and did not face a vote.

Another commission member, Andrew Hohns, chief executive of Newmarket Capital, a Philadelphia investment firm whose clients include the state teachers’ pension system (PSERS), complained of a lack of “transparency,” that he thinks should lead to congressional hearings and an independent audit of the commission.

Hohns, who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for a state House seat in the early 2000s, announced in 2016 that he was forming a Philadelphia group to promote the 250th anniversary, and later was appointed to the commission by U.S. Sen. and Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.).

Hohns said Wednesday that the board has not moved as rapidly as it should to create “infrastructure projects” in connection with the anniversary or a program for persuading more visitors to attend programs at colonial sites during the anniversary year.

Early discussions for a weeklong festival in Philadelphia that could draw one million visitors, fell short, in his view.

Will the board be able to work together, now that a majority has expressed support for management?

“If this was an attempt to create better comity, it was a failed attempt,” Crowley said.

Supporters of DiLella’s leadership note the America250 Foundation set up to receive contributions to the effort has attracted private support, not only the $10 million committed by Facebook but more from Comcast, Ernst & Young, and a string of Philadelphia law firms.

Supporters also are projecting faster progress under the streamlined rules and said privately they expect a string of funding and program announcements later this year.