ANC6b Evaluates Self – Seeks Public Input on Priorities
by Larry Janezich
ANC6b Chair Brian Flahaven asked his colleagues to evaluate the work of ANC6b and at last week’s Executive Committee meeting, commissioners discussed that evaluation. The commissioners’ responses – copied below – show little agreement about what ANC6b does well, and some of the responses seem perfunctory. One or two seem illusory or contradictory. Regarding how the ANC can improve operations – aside from one flippant response – several commissioners addressed issues of substance, including improving the website, streamlining both the legislative process (some commissioners feel they have to weigh in on every issue both in committee and before the full commission) and the parliamentary process, and involving more ANC6b residents in meaningful ways.
With respect to the ANC’s top priorities, there was substantial agreement on the Virginia Avenue Tunnel, Barney Circle-SE Boulevard and Reservation 13. Overlooked among the responses – though mentioned in the meeting – were the redesign of the Eastern Market Metro Plaza and proposals to expand the Capitol Hill Historic District. Subsequent to the evaluation discussion, ANC6b Treasurer Brian Pate informed the Executive Committee that the surplus fund which has enabled the commission to operate with an annual deficit will be exhausted by the fall of 2015, and suggested that addressing this issue should be a priority in the coming year.
Commissioners nominated the following discretionary issues as areas where the ANC might direct more attention: public safety, vacant/blighted houses, retail, schools, RFK, and bike share expansion.
One commissioner expressed frustration over the dysfunction of the DC bureaucracy – a complaint that goes hand in hand with the unstated reality that the city bureaucracies do not give ANC opinions the “great weight” that city law requires. Born in 1974 under Home Rule Act, ANCs have evolved into legally representative but marginally effective entities. When the city is indifferent to commission opinions and unresponsive to commission requests, ANCs become little more than vehicles by which the city pays lip service to its residents. It is also unclear who commissioners consider their primary constituents: residents, or the local businesses and retailers who come before them for approval of licenses and applications. Most commissioners would probably suggest some combination of both, but sometimes the ANC’s regard for community input seems cursory.
A web of relations defines the monthly business of the ANC, and some of these relations often go unacknowledged. Commissioners represent residents and businesses to the city bureaucracies and to each other. But they can also become part of a ward’s political apparatus and as such can appear to have an institutional bias. In the case of former Ward Five Councilmember Harry Thomas the ANCs became extensions of his political machine, and ultimately, a venue for neighbors to clash with that political apparatus. In Ward Six, Councilmember Tommy Wells chose to endorse candidates in some ANC races (including the entire sitting ANC6b in 2010) a move that while not unprecedented was unusual.
During the Executive Committee meeting, commissioners decided to solicit public input regarding the questions Flahaven put to the commission. While the committee supported the idea of news coverage of the survey, they did not identify other specific mechanisms by which they would solicit public input other than to encourage reporting on the issue.
ANC6B 3013 Mid-Year Evaluation
1. What does our commission do well?
- Keeping organized
- Moving along lengthy agendas
- I think we do a good job of taking action in response to issues of neighborhood concern.
- We’re professional – we do out homework on issues and provide meaningful feedback to the Council and city agencies. Zoning review, historic preservation and others come to mind.
- For the most part, our processes are documented and easily available to applicants.
- Though we disagree on many things, we typically don’t let our disagreements get in the way of civil, meaningful debate.
- Hold/conduct meetings
- Sharing documents with public
- Weigh in/out front on larger neighborhood issues (versus just BZA, HPO, ABC cases)
- Council testimony (though we could do more in this area)
- Meetings have improved
- Tremendous improvement in working together
How can our commission improve how we operate/function?
- We should throw water balloons at people who keep talking just to hear their own voice, even though we’re three hours into a meeting.
- I think we need to try to figure out a way to delegate more work to our committees (and maybe make them true committees, not committees of the whole), and cover less at the full commission meeting. We cover such a broad range of issues at each meeting, often with little notice, that I find it very hard to thoughtfully address the matters before us. We certainly do not have time to have through discussions of many things that come before the commission. For example, I think sometimes P&Z applicatioons unnecessarily overwhelm the time we have for full commission meetings.
- Web presence – time for that overhaul
- I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to arrive at a set of “standards”, but I think the more we can make things predictable for applicants, the better we will be as a Commission. We look like dolts when we vacillate and it’s unfair to residents.
- Continue to involve residents in meaningful ways – it only strengthens us.
- Provide more substantive info in our letters to ABRA, HP, BZA etc on why we voted as we did
- Committee reports on time and in a standardized format
- Drastically improve website
- Avoid reading committee reports out loud at meetings
- Pre-meeting preparation of motions, particularly by affected SMD commissioners
- More notice to potential cases on monthly agenda
What are the commission’s top three priorities for the remainder of the year?
- Virginia Ave Tunnel (5 votes)
- Barney Circle-SE Boulevard Project (4 votes)
- Reservation 13 (3 votes)
- ABC Tavern License Renewals
- Ongoing issues with Eastern Market/Hine
- Performance Based Parking Implementation North of PA Ave
Beyond issues we must weigh in on, are there other issues that ANC6B should consider weighing in on to benefit the neighborhood?
- Public safety issues
- Complete public safety study
- Keep the pressure on vacant/blighted – pick a high profile focus like the Shotgun House or Ann Archibald and make it happen
- I am so tired of the increasing dysfunction of City bureaucracy. Terrible. Pick one of a dozen local or City wide examples. I don’t have an immediate solution, but it theere’s some way to push for accountability reform, we should get behind it.
- I like the idea of doing an information exchange with other ANCs and Ward 6 civic organizations (BID, EMCAC, CHRS, other) to see if we can find some broad issues to get behind.
- I would like to do some simple things to improve our retail profile, i.e., pick a desirable retailer and recruit them to the ‘hood, get behind something that helps small businesses, etc.
- DC Public Schools – particularly with boundary changes coming
- Future of RFK
- Parking issues – pushing DDOT to improve parking policies
- More active role in Capital Bikeshare
- Too much to do, too little time
- Fix the website
- Commission has been less divisive this past year. Still have disagreements, but level of respect between commissioners has improved.