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.”