CM Anita Bonds Plans Legislation to Enhance ANCs
(Or Should They Be Abolished?)
by Larry Janezich
Councilmember-at-Large Anita Bonds has begun a series of ward by ward meetings with individual ANC commissioners to solicit input on legislation the CM expects to introduce this fall aimed at “enhancing” the operations of the ANCs. Bonds has met with some 150 individual commissioners from all eight wards. Her office has hosted six ward group meetings with commissioners and will finish up with group meetings with Ward 1 and Ward 5 commissioners by the end of the month. In the fall, according to her Chief of Staff, David Meadows, CM Bonds will bring all the ideas together, weigh them, and look for ways to implement them in legislation.
The goal is to provide more uniformity among the ANCs and insure that each ANC has equal resources and support. Meadows told CHC that the effort was Bonds’ “way of supporting local democracy and a way to bring everybody together.” In addition to serving in the administration of three Mayors, Bonds served four terms as ANC Commissioner from ANC5C.
The ANCs (Advisory Neighborhood Commissions) are unique to the District. The eight wards are divided into 41 jurisdictions, each with its own commission of nonpartisan elected officials. Each of the 41 jurisdictions is further divided into Single Member Districts numbering from 2 (ANC2D) to 12. Each Single Member District has some 2000 residents.
The ANCs weigh in with the executive and legislative branches of city government on neighborhood issues such as zoning, liquor licenses, historic preservation, traffic and parking, public safety and sanitation.
Some of the concerns raised in meetings with commissioners include the need for more funding (the city provides funds for operating expenses based on the number of Single Member Districts), legal assistance, space for offices and public meetings, and greater ability to utilize social media – some ANCs have yet to establish their own websites.
ANCs vary greatly in terms of their operating ability, including access to office and meeting space. The city is required to accommodate ANC operations and meetings in public buildings, where available, but some ANCs such as those in Ward Six lack one or both. For example, ANC6A meets in Miner School but has no office space, ANC 6B rents public meeting space in Hill Center but has no office space, only storage space in Eastern Market (ANC6B arranged office space for itself in the Hine Redevelopment Project coming on line in 2017, as part of the benefits and amenities package negotiated during the development’s PUD process); ANC6C holds its public meetings at the headquarters of the Heritage Foundation; ANC6D has a very nice office and meeting space in the DC Department of Regulatory Affairs.
When public institutions rely on the private sector for amenities, it naturally raises questions of propriety, especially when zoning, alcohol licenses, or historic preservation matters concerning ANC landlords or benefactors come before their ANC tenants or beneficiaries. Such has been the case in recent years in the cases of both the Heritage Foundation and the Hine Development. Similarly, regarding potential conflicts of interest, there does not seem to be a standard procedure for dealing with an ANC commissioner’s personal requests – on say, zoning or public space issues – when they come before that commissioner’s colleagues for consideration.
One idea raised via Bonds’ efforts was the creation of a central ward office for ANC’s – an idea that some ANCs with sufficient office space – ANC6D, for example – has little enthusiasm for.
Another idea which has been discussed is compensation for commissioners and/or requiring employers to grant leave without penalty for commissioners while doing ANC business.
One of the frequent complaints of ANCs is the dismissive attitude of some city agencies – especially DC Department of Transportation and the DC Department of Public Works. Commissioners routinely encounter stonewalling and poor treatment at the hands of these agencies.
One way to strengthen the ANCs hands in dealing with city agencies would be greater coordination among the ANCs within a Ward. Such coordination would serve to identify common ground and strengthen an ANC’s voice on positions when dealing with the city government.
Although the ANCs are non-partisan, many of its commissioners harbor some type of political ambition. Current and former members of ANC6B, for example, remain active in either Democratic or Republican campaigns. In fact, as has been raised by CHC in previous stories, the ANC Commissions, designed to enhance residents’ voices, often function instead as functionaries for the ward councilmember. Some critics, noting the lack of power of the ANCs across the city government and before a number of city agencies, think that the city would be better off abolishing the ANCs and making the councilmember directly responsible for issues – particularly development issues – within his or her ward.
Instead, Councilmember Bonds seems to be embarking on the opposite path: strengthening them. Along those lines, perhaps the CM Bond’s conversations should include how can we get a wider variety of people to serve on the ANCS. Few have any idea how much the job requires and how thankless it is, and this is particularly true in light of residential zoning and historic preservation requests. ANCs within a historic district, for example, can expend thirty minutes of full committee meeting time on a controversial renovation to a neighbor’s back porch, leaving commissioners in awkward position that, in other jurisdictions, would be handed by an administrative process with an opportunity to appeal. Laboring under the weight of so much extraneous material dealing with discrete residential renovations, ANCs are left without much room on their agenda for issues of genuine community concern. For those who harbor no greater political ambitions, or for those who lack a deeper stake in ANC affairs like, for example, a real estate agent or lawyer with ties to local commercial interests might, a heavy roster of zoning and historic preservation cases is unlikely to attract them to service. On the other hand, a platform to discuss and advocate on behalf of local development, public safety, and schools might.
For more on the ANC’s go here: http://anc.dc.gov/