Residents Direct Anger At Tommy Wells Over Redistricting Report – Boundaries In Councilmembers’ Home District At Issue

Councilmember Wells Addresses 50 ANC6B Residents on Redistricting Wednesday Night

Residents Direct Anger At Tommy Wells Over Redistricting Report – Boundaries In Councilmembers’ Home District At Issue

by Larry Janezich

Fifty unhappy residents and ANC6B commissioners turned out at St. Peter’s Church Tuesday night to tell Councilmember Tommy Wells just how unhappy they were with the redistricting proposal that would move 1275 6B residents into ANC6C.  The meeting was called by ANC Commissioner Ivan Frishberg, who is coordinating a response by concerned citizens to the proposed realignment of boundaries in ANC6B.  The history of how that came about has been reported previously on emmcablog.

Residents argued first, the area to be excised from 6B has more in common with neighborhoods to the east and south than to the north; second, residents want to vote for commissioners who have a voice in the neighborhood issues which concern them most – especially Eastern Market, Hine Development, and Eastern Market Metro Plaza – and these issues currently fall under the exclusive purview of ANC 6B.

In response, Councilmember Wells defended the process which the Taskforce followed in reaching its conclusions, and stated he will have to start with the presumption in favor of the Task Force Report.  Wells said there would have to be reasons for overturning aspects of the report, and he did not see anything nefarious or any evidence of racial or demographic gerrymandering.  Acknowledging that he had not yet seen the Task Force Report, Wells also said that he was not in a position to defend it and would meet with Task Force members to hear their rationale.

Wells admitted that the “presumption is you guys [in 6B] are my neighbors and I’m going to defer to your wishes.  I have to show I can bring impartiality, because the presumption is that I won’t.”  He went on to say that he had already “probably inappropriately tried to influence the vote of the Task Force” by asking them prior to the vote on the boundary change: “do you really want to do this?”

During the meeting, ANC 6B commissioners added to the objections of the gathered residents by pointing out that the boundary shift would have enormous consequences in their single member district (SMD) boundaries, pitting six commissioners against each other and creating four new SMDs with no incumbents.  They also objected to the stated motives of ANC6C, saying the real motive behind the boundary change was to be more involved in Eastern Market and the Hine development.  They faulted the Task Force for a flawed process (reported earlier on emmcablog), and Task Force Chair Joe Fengler with having an “overriding zeal” for creating equal sized ANCs when there is no requirement for that in the DC Charter.

Wells acknowledged that the Redistricting Task Force Report was “problematic in so far as it broke up ANC6B” and admitted that SMD boundaries requiring six sitting commissioners to vie for three seats was “a little unnerving.”  One resident, Wally Mylniec, noted that Wells was accepting a false binary in giving preference to a Task Force recommendation in favor of the move that was adopted on a 5-4 vote.  He said that this was not the Supreme Court, but an advisory committee, and a “recommendation based on a 5-4 vote deserves consideration, but not preference.”  That view was also backed by Task Force member Ken Jarboe, who dissented from the majority position of the Task Force on the 6eB question, along with fellow Task Force member Donna Scheeder, (both positions will be available shortly on http://w6tf.blogspot.com/, along with the Task Force’s final report).

Late in the meeting, Wells raised an issue which many ANC6B commissioners feel lies at the heart of ANC6C’s effort to acquire another SMD at 6B’s expense, and the willingness of other ANCs to support that move.  Wells said that “there is a presumption that 6B is more powerful, has more people, more commissioners, and that their influence is greater than other ANCs,” implying that this was driving the Task Force in prioritizing the principle that ANCs should be closer in size.  Wells went on to suggest the validity of more parity among the ANCs, though he acknowledged that, since he comes from 6B, he might be misreading this as a motivation behind the Taskforce Report.

Councilmember Wells said the timeline for redistricting was as follows:  he will officially receive the report Wednesday night and will forward it to the City Council on Friday.  Wells said he would continue to refine the boundaries but stated that he was not saying he was going to rewrite the boundaries at this time.  He promised to “continue talk with members of the community and members of the Taskforce” before he made a final recommendation to his colleagues on the council.

Wells added that his overall consideration in reviewing the work of the Taskforce Report would be, what is the greater good for Ward 6?  What ward 6 gains from the Task Force Report, Wells noted, is apportionment in Ward 6: each ANC gets no less than six commissioners.  “We have to look at what’s in the whole Ward’s interest,” Wells argued, and “see what the greater good is, and give the Task Force a chance.  That’s where I’m at.”

The City Council will hold a hearing devoted to Ward 6 redistricting, and the ANC’s will apparently have an opportunity to present their case to the council before it finalizes the redistricting plan.  Frishberg told the group that the process is not going to be decided in the next two days, and advised the group to “let the process work and try to bring Tommy around to our position.”

19 Comments

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19 responses to “Residents Direct Anger At Tommy Wells Over Redistricting Report – Boundaries In Councilmembers’ Home District At Issue

  1. I guess I don’t see the issue with pitting incumbents against incumbents. This should be about the districts, not the representatives of those districts. It’s about the map, not the person who holds the office. These boundaries will be in place for 10 years, likely outlasting the service of most, if not all incumbent commissioners.

  2. Kathleen

    I agree with Alex B. (hi Alex!). As I’ve said in an earlier post, let’s not narrate political self-interest as if it were a community problem. At the same time, I also agree with what seems to be Councilmember Wells’ sense that to have 3 SMDs with 6 incumbents running against each other is a bit much. We shouldn’t gerrymander in favor of incumbents, but we shouldn’t sabotage the productivity of their remaining term by geographically pitting them against each other in the next election either.

  3. David Healy

    Neighborhoods are usually organic residential areas which are unified by a common point of reference–a particular shopping district or school or park or historic event. The ANC redistricting process in effect removes the neighborhood from the ANC and leaves it as an Advisory Commission for an arbitrary population without a common point of reference.

  4. Jon

    David,
    Well said. That is EXACTLY what is primary at issue here.

  5. Jon and David,

    That’s all well and good, but the lines have to be drawn someplace – such is the nature of any political boundary. We have rules about the relatively equal size of districts for a reason. Likewise, the Task Force’s goals of equalizing the size of ANCs relative to one another is a good idea in the abstract.

    I can understand the frustration of these residents who are being moved, but I also can see the math – and the math says that the old boundaries of 6B just can’t hold.

    Personally, I think one of the initial concepts of integrating Shaw into 6C, shifting 6A to the west, and creating a new 6E ANC for Hill East was a more coherent plan – but the representatives from 6B were rather opposed to that concept.

    What I haven’t heard from 6B is what they’re for. I’ll admit that I haven’t been following this too closely (since this is some of the most mundane municipal minutiae imaginable), but so far all of the alternatives seem to assert that 6B shouldn’t have to change.

  6. Jon

    Alex,
    Where is it stated that all ANCs need to be of equivalent size?

    Even if you perceive of this being a good idea in the abstract-it isn’t abstract to those 1275 who lose representation for THEIR neighborhood.

    This is a land grab to get more representation for eastern market issues and hine. Nothing
    more.

  7. Vernon

    I am very curious to know how many of those in attendance at this meeting live at an address that is actually affected by these boundary changes.

  8. Di

    I was unable to attend, but can say the eastern end of the hill gets shafted in the task force proposal. Wells needs to man up and make this right. It seems over and over again we have to force Wells to make the right decision and actually fight for his constituents. His default is to let the rest of the city run roughshod over us.

  9. Andrea Harles

    The proposed change makes me feel like the parent whose elementary school is across the street and whose school district changes the boundaries so that my kids now are supposed to go to a school a mile away. Yes, boundaries are arbitrary, but they have to make sense.

  10. Jeff Harrell

    It is clear form this and the discusion Wed night, that from a political perspective, that the task force is proposing a division based on political consideration, but from a neighborhood perspective, they are way off base. Their decision making is skewed on the side of political right sizing and boundaries, not neighborhoods integrity.

  11. anon

    The impact on SMDs in ANC6B would be totally unnerving to any other ANC in Ward 6. It lumps residents on one side of 11th St into a separate SMD from neighbors across the street, and groups the eastern portion of the historic district within Hill East, even for those who live within 3 blocks of 8th St and EM, and 4 blocks from Hines. It’s a terrible map that ruins the current representation (incumbent or otherwise)

  12. Frank Zampatori

    It is often said that all politics is local and ANCs and ANC redistricting is the smallest of the local realm of politics. The concern over the recent redistricting in ANC 6B goes beyond the mere fact that several Commissioners will now run against each other. I believe that what we are seeing is an effort to undue the November 2, 2010 ANC 6B election results. (ANC 6B is comprised of 10 occupied Single Member Districts.)

    If you remember, an informal insurgent ANC “slate” ran in opposition to a slate endorsed by Tommy Wells. The insurgent slate was victorious in four SMD elections. Ivan Frishberg, Brian Flahaven, Andrew Critchfield (who was unopposed), and Brian Pate (who defeated long time ANC Commissioner Ken Jarboe) won their respective elections. When the new ANC 6B met in January 2011, the four new SMD members were joined by Carol Green and Neil Glick in reorganizing and electing officers as well as expanding community involvement on 6B ANC Committees and creating new Standing Committees and Task Forces which address long neglected issues.

    The Ward 6 ANC Task Force has now put into place a redistricting proposal for ANC 6B which manages to do several things but primarily aims to eliminate several new voices. As the Chair of the Task Force Joe Fengler has said, the ANC 6B proposal was the creation of Ken Jarboe and was brought up in the late hours of a six hour meeting on September 22. As has been ponted out, three SMDs will now force 6 incumbent 6B SMD Commissioners to compete against each other in November 2012.

    Of the six Commissioners, five represent the new slate of Officers and include three first elected in November 2010. Carol Green and Andrew Critchfield are now in one SMD; Brian Flahaven and Neil Glick are in another SMD; Ivan Frishberg has been moved to another incumbent’s SMD. Brian Pate remains in his own SMD but he also by chance shares the SMD with Ken Jarboe. So far, only ANC 6B has had this number of contested SMDs. Strange how the other ANC’s in Ward 6 have managed to avoid this result.

  13. Frank,

    You raise some interesting observations, but from my all too lengthy engagement in this process I don’t think this is the motivation behind this. Mapping this stuff is hard, lots of competing interests and almost always when you make one change there are corresponding changes that can cause problems.

    Certainly, some in 6C may have motives with regard to Hine and Eastern Market, they have been very public about that. That said, I don’t think any of this is what has motivated the Task Force. Nor do I think their motivations matter much.

    The fact is that it is a change which does significant harm to a specific neighborhood and to an overall ANC. That has to be weighed against the reasons stated by the Task Force.

    My own very strong opinion is that when you take the TF opinions and look for behind them (as Ken Jarboe has done) they don’t stand up to too much scrutiny or merit the damage on our side of the boundary. I don’t think this was malicious by the TF, but it doesn’t change the realities of what they have proposed.

    That is the situation that Tommy is going to have to weigh and respond to. Obviously I think our case is very strong and has been reinforced by 250+ people on the petition, dozens of lengthy letters, Ken’s dissent and a community meeting with 50 people at it.

    I believe it is the facts that have motivated this response from the community and that is why Tommy will have to take it very seriously.

    Ivan

  14. Kathleen

    Ivan,
    I think Frank is addressing the SMD boundaries and not the boundary change per se. Ken Jarboe drew those SMD boundaries, did he not? And he has said that there was only one way to draw them, isn’t that correct? But the SMD map on JDLand has shown a number of different ways to apportion ANC 6B, even with the boundary change.
    Whether the pitting of reform commissioners against each other was intentional or not, I think that, if the hope is to defeat the reform coalition, it is a futile endeavor. If so-called “insurgents” won elections when the faith in the old guard of Capitol Hill was at its peak, I must believe that the displacement of the old guard will only become more pronounced and apparent in the coming years.
    So, I’ve wondered what Frank is wondering, but I’m not too concerned about it, either.
    Btw, I don’t share your sense that the logic of parity among ANCs is either a fig leaf or of secondary importance. I think it is a worthwhile guiding principle of the Taskforce’s work. This actually IS an issue on which reasonable people can disagree, and to characterize the Taskforce’s justification as unable to withstand critical scrutiny is uncharitable to say the least. There is more than one way to feel on this issue, and no absolute position is free from contradiction. For instance, using your logic of neighborhood proximity, why should someone from Hill East have more of a say in the management of EM or Hine than someone currently living in Stanton Park, which falls in 6C? And the falling the sky you refer to of people losing a voice in the management of these things is a complete hypothetical; what is likely to happen instead is that 6C, as a commission, will gain a voice. Why should we oppose that? Why should one ANC commission have sole proprietorship over the crown jewels of Capitol Hill? (I exaggerate here for effect… I love H Street too.) I don’t mind that you have a different view or that you feel strongly about it, but I don’t like it when people present an issue as if there is only one way to feel about it.

  15. anon

    6C already has a voice — it’s just not as expansive as it would like — 6C would rather poach my rightful 6B voice and relegate me to a useless SMD while removing our very strong community voice.

  16. Kathleen,

    You said “Btw, I don’t share your sense that the logic of parity among ANCs is either a fig leaf or of secondary importance. I think it is a worthwhile guiding principle of the Taskforce’s work. This actually IS an issue on which reasonable people can disagree, and to characterize the Taskforce’s justification as unable to withstand critical scrutiny is uncharitable to say the least.”

    If you are just talking about the size of commissions you might have a point but even that is a position they have taken without much rigor. The bulk of the case advanced by 6C rested in the need for more commissioners to handle workload and the need for an odd number of commissioners.

    The odd number of commissioners has been well debunked, so not worth restating here, but the workload justification was arrived out without much rigor at all. When you look at actual case load based on geography, 6C will be giving up about 1/3rd of its commissioners that actually represent close to 40% of its workload. So they may actually reduce their workload on a per commissioner basis. So then the justification for taking this area (generally a low caseload area) to help with work load is similarly built on a feet of clay.

    This gets me back to the “debatable” point of whether equal sized commissions is important. There are several factors that could drive the need for equality:

    – equal representation – not really an issue as residents are represented by commissioners in an SMD, not by the commission.
    – equal workload – that might be a good point but give that no data was presented during the lengthy debate and listening sessions it seems to be an argument of convenience rather than of merit.
    – equal money – distributions to ANCs are made based on population, so bigger commissions get more money, but then they also have more people to serve, so it hardly seems like a fundamental imbalance is achieved by different sizes of commission.
    – equal political power – some feel that some commissions are more powerful than others (unsubstantiated speculation) and that size is the derivation of this disproportionate power (further unsubstantiated speculation).

    So maybe I have chosen four straw man arguments for why it is important to have equally sized commissions. Then lets see the others and where the evidence is. Rather than well substantiated rationales the debate has tended to rely on guidelines and not much else. I think we deserve more.

    So you think I am being uncharitable, which i think fails to acknowledge that the assumptions behind the task force and ANC6C rationale are not that well substantiated and the critiques raised have been not at all addressed (aside from Ken’s dissent). I think that is the uncharitable act here, but more importantly it is the basis for Tommy rejecting the recommendation on boundaries when he has reviewed the full record.

    On the SMD conspiracy, Ken did three versions of the maps, and the the first one he introduced at the thursday meeting was the one presented by ANC6B commissioners. So i don; think there is much of a smoking gun there. Just a disruptive plan that got approved without much consideration of the substantive real world impacts.

  17. I have to echo Ivan’s comments regarding the possibility of a deliberate plot to silence new voices–I don’t see that as an operating motive. Ken Jarboe first put forward an SMD plan put together by ANC6B commissioners. The TF then considered a 6B SMD plan drawn by 6C. This was an even more disruptive and challenging SMD plan than the one ultimately adopted. Both Ken and Donna Scheeder, as well as several others, were champions of less disruptive plans.

    Kathleen is right in questioning the virtue of preserving the seats of sitting Commissioners. Indeed, I ran for the ANC based on the premise that renewal is a positive and necessary element of a health democracy. However, renewal is best achieved through the ballot box. Using the redistricting proposal of an unelected task force to create an altogether new ANC, which is essentially what the TF proposal would do, is destructive and unnecessarily disruptive. It seems the antithesis of democratic principles.

    Lastly, if the unstated objective of the TF was to rebalance the perceived power of Ward 6 ANCs, then we should have had that discussion publicly, based on the merits of the argument. We didn’t. We had a general and very unsubstantiated conversation about “balancing work loads”. Not to mention, I think the perception is flawed. One example–6C, the purportedly disadvantaged ANC, has approximately $90K of reserve funds in the bank. 6B on the other hand is working with $45K and an active deficit. From a financial perspective, who has more “power”? My main point is that clout, power and influence are about so much more than an SMD or two. Constructive influence derives from a number of variables: finances, effectiveness, personalities, an ability to mobilize, strategy, drive and, to a lesser degree, size. Without a nuanced discussion of the various facets of influence, the TF’s decisions seem to be driven more by personalities and opinions than by quantitative or qualitative reasoning. What’s more, proposing to balance the influence of ANCs on the backs of unwilling residents is not good public policy, it’s autocratic policy and inside baseball.

    It is my sincere hope that CM Wells will consider this as he moves his ultimate redistricting proposal through the Council.

    Brian Pate
    ANC6B05

    P.S. — It may not seem like it to various members of the TF, but I am appreciative of their efforts and the process they ran. CM Wells assembled a diverse group of highly motivated, intelligent and dedicated individuals to complete this task. In my opinion, redistricting can’t end soon enough, so that we can refocus our energies on the many other important issues facing Ward 6.

  18. Kathleen

    I think the lengthy posts by two ANC Commissioners underscores the validity of Alex B.’s observations: we haven’t heard what 6B is for. This problem becomes all the more acute, in my mind, by the Commissioners’ failure to acknowledge the broader set of concerns in play–namely, the creation of ANC 6E (the inclusion of Shaw into Ward 6), which has precipitated many of the changes under discussion. Brian is on the one hand exonerating the SMD plan of Ken Jarboe, and then is denouncing it as unfair the next (is the message here that 6B was defeated by its own gamesmanship? Is its gamesmanship what deprived it of the open discussion both Commissioners seem to crave?). Ivan is on the one hand urging us to accept that people are represented by their commissioner rather than their commission, and then prodding us to be upset about people losing their current commission (6B), although they will certainly still have a commissioner. They want us to believe that these affected neighbors are going to lose a voice in the management of central institutions of Capitol Hill life, but are at the same time attributing the motivations of 6C as aspiring to gain a voice in the management of those institutions. Both cannot be true.

    What this is really about is 6B resenting the loss of its monopoly on management of these institutions. I’m kind of tired of the logical lapses and the failure to acknowledge that one basic and driving motivation. And, to be honest, to the extent that there is an issue here, it is precisely this: that this affected group is losing a 6B voice, which is a highly skilled and dedicated group, and gaining a 6C voice, which, even Elizabeth Purcell has hinted on this blog is currently comprised of Commissioners who lack “organization.” So the issue is actually the opposite of what Ivan has suggested: that is, these folks are not losing a commissioner, or a voice, they are losing the representation of one very good commission. And the relative advantage of 6B does not rest on its exclusive attention to the crown jewels, if I can use that phrase again, as opposed to 6C being “distracted” by other things (as I’ve heard people say). 6B has plenty of other issues on its plate. The advantage rests rather in the incredible skill of 6B Commissioners.

    But if that’s the worst that will come of forming an entirely new Commission in 6E, then I would say that the Taskforce has done its job. The inclusion of the new territory might even result in the improvement of 6C’s operation and influence within the ward, especially if Thom Riehle’s stalwart Commissioner, Dave Garrison, runs and wins election. And that reminds me, I think we should all be taking Barbara’s suggestion that EMMCA consider expanding its boundaries very seriously.

  19. Jeff Harrell

    Everything discussed so far seems focused on political distribution of power, influence and prestige. There seems to be way to many egos involved. Very little has been about the residences and what we except, except to use us as fodder for population tallys and gross numbers that gets distributed here and there for this given reason or another. Frankly, the discussion sounds more like stock yard / farm management. Fence this area off for pasture, and move these critters here so we have this even distribution across available pasture and so we have an efficient work load for the animal handlers. It pisses me off.

    I am a member of a neighborhood, a localized community within a larger city and district (Ward in our case). My neighborhood is about face to face and social interaction among those I live beside, as well as those things that effect the location where I live. Geographically, I live half a block from EM, 1.5 blocks from Hines, and less than 4 blocks from 8th St. These areas are within what I consider my geographic neighborhood, and I am interested in what is decided in these venues, because it effects me directly.

    I hate to be crass, but Union Station is 9+ Blocks from me, and H St is 7 blocks away. Shaw is even further. These areas are a destinations for me, they are not my neighborhood. Either I have to take the subway to get there, take a cab, drive or have a long hike. I have no clue what the local issues are in these destinations. For me, these areas might as well be Taneytown or Fairfax City.

    With the redistricting plans proposed, I am being told now to be interested in Union Station and H St. I am supposed to know what these areas need and engage my reprehensive on the issues for these areas. This is ludicrous. From where I live, I am discouraged and my willingness to be involved is being destroyed, because I have a lack of understanding of the local effects on the neighborhoods of Union Station, Shaw or H St. Who am I, or my representative or that fact, to voice what is needed for those areas.

    Those that should be interested are those who’s neighborhoods bound these destinations. If Union Station, Shaw or H St were my neighborhood, I for one would resent someone who is geographically distant from my neighborhood telling me how things should be. I would further resent that they have a vote on it, and I would further discount their input and minimize it in opportune times. That is what I see for us that are be subjugate in this redistricting effort. What I see going in on is plain gerrymandering of populations for political purposes.

    On another note, if I should be interested in Union Station, Shaw or H St, then let’s get rid of the ANCs and have one super ANC. What purpose do an ANC serve. This whole ANC redistricting seems hooky given the talk about who runs against whom, old guard verse insurgents, which ANC has more power or money, who is going what for what interest, yada, yada, yada. . . . We already have subdivisions in the form of SMDs. Instead let us have One Ward, not ANC subdivisions within a Ward. Then again maybe I am speaking heresy.