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As Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5D’s May meeting wound into its third hour, the agenda set out by Chair Kathy Henderson turned to administrative matters.
For many ANCs, this would have been a relatively routine section of the meeting. Not so for 5D, whose commissioners had not successfully approved minutes or a treasurer’s report since taking office in January. After an audience member raised concerns about minutes, Henderson launched into an extended invective against her fellow commissioners, accusing them of failing to do their jobs. She started in on Yvonne Buggs, followed by Keisha Shropshire. Both responded that they had been stymied by Henderson at every turn. Shropshire fired back at Henderson, “You have an uncanny ability to twist the truth.”
A few moments later, another audience member stood up and said “this is becoming a farce, and so shameful. ‘We the community’ is ‘we the people,’ not ‘we the commissioners.’” Three minutes later, Henderson abruptly adjourned the meeting without a motion while speaking over Commissioner Adam Roberts’ partner, Edward Milton, who records video of meetings and whom Henderson had refused to recognize. Milton accused Henderson of putting her hand on him as she passed. She denied it and left, but could soon be heard calling out “Officer! Officer!” after threatening to have Metropolitan Police Department officers remove Milton from the meeting. (5D’s meetings are held at a police station outside the ANC’s boundaries.)
Henderson returned shortly after, and Milton threw a barb at Henderson regarding the loss of a property she owned as the result of a court judgment. Henderson then insisted that those who record audio and video of meetings do so to “make a mockery of the commission.” This time, she directed her attention toward Nick Russo, who records audio of meetings for the Ward 5 Archive website, shouting at him, “And you… you know something? You do this deliberately. You sit here, sit here innocently like you’re just recording something. But the whole goal is that you, this white supremist [sic] here.” While saying this, Henderson looked at a resident who had been live-tweeting the meeting. The tweeting resident responded with shock, while Henderson told her “Yeah, and that’s what you are. You are. You’re a white supremist. Your little blogs and your listservs.”
“You people support bars. You’ve called us niggers,” Henderson continued. “You’re disgusting. You’re disgusting. You’re disgusting. You’re a disgusting white supremist.”
Henderson left the room again.
Vice Chair Clarence Lee took the reins and attempted to continue the meeting. Henderson returned, an MPD officer in tow, and instructed the officer repeatedly to remove Milton with the words “Get him out of here.” An audience member interjected, saying Milton hadn’t done anything wrong. Lee agreed, saying “Officer, it’s not necessary. It’s not necessary.” Henderson disagreed, shouting “It is necessary.” Henderson and Lee continued to argue for and against Milton’s removal with Lee asserting that he was now running the meeting, and had “no problem with this gentleman here.”
“If anyone needs to be escorted, it’s Miss Henderson,” Lee said. Henderson again shouted “Get him out of here! I’m going to file a complaint,” prompting Lee to ask “Can you take her complaint at the front desk, officer?”
When the ANCs were created as an extension of home rule in 1974, this could hardly be what was envisioned. At their best, ANC officials can be powerful advocates for their constituents and neighborhoods. The commissions can help focus resources where they’re most needed and steer things back on track if efforts by District agencies go awry. Even though a commission’s powers are strictly advisory, the District government is required to give ANC stances “great weight.”
But at their worst, unpaid commissioners can neglect their duties. They may also pervert the organizations’ missions in such a way that their positions can become a tool to harm rather than help a community.
That’s what some believe happened with Kathy Henderson.
Kathy Henderson is midway through her sixth term as an advisory neighborhood commissioner. She was first elected in November of 1998 and assumed her ANC 5B10 seat in January of 1999, an office she held until the end of 2006. She gave up the slot to run for the Democratic nomination for the Ward 5 Council seat, the first of four unsuccessful attempts.
In 2006, India Henderson, still a teenager, ran and was elected to her mother’s old ANC 5B10 seat. India would hold that seat, and after redistricting, the ANC 5D03 seat, until she resigned to move out of her single-member district in May of 2014.
For whatever hostility she later engendered, Kathy Henderson built her reputation on public safety and quality-of-life issues such as littering and vandalism. She’s been vocal about crime in her Carver Terrace neighborhood, repeatedly encouraging residents to stand with police and to report any suspicious activity. In 2011 and again in 2014, MPD presented her with its Chief of Police Special Award, granted to those “who have built strong partnerships with the MPD to reduce crime, strengthen neighborhoods or improve the operations of the Department.”
Henderson also established 5D Court Watch, a program that “encourages residents to write community impact statements at sentencing” in criminal cases, especially in situations involving repeat offenders. Another of Henderson’s projects is the Landlord Roundtable, which seeks to connect District agencies and landlords whose properties may pose a nuisance to the neighborhood due to trash, dilapidated conditions, or tenants who engage in criminal activities such as dealing drugs out of their homes.
In 2005, People magazine wrote about Henderson in an article titled “To The Rescue,” which lauded six people for their heroic efforts. Under the headline “SHE DROVE OUT THE DRUG DEALERS,” Henderson was profiled as having gone head-to-head with neighborhood drug dealers and refusing to back down even when they threatened to “blow up [her] house, rape [her] daughter.” Henderson told the Washington Post in 2005 that at different times, “someone slashed her convertible top, caused her gas tank to explode and threw bricks at her car”; her car was also torched in the summer of 2006.
The People article quoted former police Chief Charles Ramsey, who praised Henderson, saying “She held us accountable,” and asserting that Henderson’s Carver Terrace neighborhood “is not perfect, but it’s far better.” Essence called Henderson one of the “Most Inspiring Women” of 2007, noting her courage in standing up to those who would bring drugs and disorder to her neighborhood. According to a court filing Henderson made earlier this year, she also appeared on The Montel Williams Show and said she was asked to appear on Oprah. Henderson can not only cite such national accolades, but has also had her share of local supporters. I know this for a fact: I used to be one of them.
I met Henderson in 2005 when I began attending meetings for Police Service Area 504. Henderson was a regular at those meetings, and though I recall being concerned that she often engaged in explosive arguments with another member of the ANC, I liked her. At the time, she struck me as someone who could be an effective advocate for my area, and we desperately needed more of those.
In 2004, three years after moving to Trinidad, and a year and a half after buying my home in the neighborhood, I started writing a blog called Frozen Tropics. It covers news and events, as well as some hyper-local politics (mostly on the ANC level) in my neighborhood, on H Street NE, and in the surrounding area. In November of 2006, I ran as a write-in candidate for ANC 5B08, won, and served two years on ANC 5B alongside India Henderson.
While I have worked alongside Kathy Henderson at neighborhood clean-ups, marched with her during anti-crime walks, and talked strategy for improving our larger neighborhood, we rarely see eye to eye these days. I’ve been critical (sometimes snarky) about Henderson on my blog.
I approached Henderson following the Oct. 13 ANC 5D meeting and asked her to speak with me for this story. She declined that opportunity and another on Oct. 16 by phone. Henderson also did not respond to a detailed list of questions sent by email this week.
The 2014 election ushered in a large crop of new commissioners for ANC 5D; four of the seven commission members—Buggs, Lee, Roberts, and Shropshire— are serving for the first time; they joined returning commissioners Bernice Blacknell, Henderson, and Peta-Gay Lewis. In December 2014, Henderson proposed an amendment to the ANC’s bylaws that would prohibit new commissioners from holding officer positions on the ANC.
She called a special meeting to pass the amendment, but she needed one more commissioner to make a quorum, without which the commission could take no binding action. Henderson called Blacknell, who was home caring for her sick son and unwilling to leave him, and told her she was needed for quorum. When Blacknell refused, then-Commissioner Vonetta Dumas called Blacknell to repeat Henderson’s entreaty. Blacknell protested that she couldn’t leave her son, and Dumas gave up. Henderson got back on the phone and suggested that if Blacknell wouldn’t come to them, ANC 5D would meet in the lobby of Blacknell’s building. Blacknell declined the offer, and ANC 5D, having failed to achieve a quorum, never voted on Henderson’s proposed amendment.
Three of the new commissioners—Buggs, Roberts, and Shropshire—also received notices in July that paperwork had been filed to begin the recall process against them. Petitions and signatures were never turned in for Buggs and Shropshire; a petition to recall Roberts, signed by Henderson as a circulator, failed to collect enough valid signatures. I publicly opposed the recall efforts.
For most of this term, commissioners were unable to agree on approving minutes. Sniping and ambushes at meetings became commonplace, battles were waged over the bank account and Security Fund, and tiny wars fought over issues of transparency and agendas. There still isn’t a live ANC 5D website.
During the first meeting of 2015, on Jan. 13, the commissioners held the customary officer elections. After the nominations had closed, with both Henderson and Roberts nominated for chair, Henderson pronounced Roberts ineligible, claiming he had not yet been sworn in. Roberts had been in Thailand during the swearing-in ceremony, but had taken the oath and been sworn in by Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie prior to the meeting. Roberts brought his sworn oath of office with him to the meeting.
Henderson’s accusation surprised other commissioners. Lee and Shropshire suggested delaying the election until later in January (allowable under the bylaws), but Henderson rejected the idea. Pressed for a specific reason, she fired back “It’s out of order, and you should read Robert’s Rules of Order.”
The commission then held a voice vote for the position of chair with Lewis voting for Henderson, Henderson voting for herself with an “enthusiastic yes,” and all other commissioners abstaining. During the same meeting, Henderson nominated herself treasurer, but lost to Shropshire by two votes. Blacknell was elected parliamentarian, Buggs became the new secretary, and Lee took on the mantle of vice chair.
Roberts continued to state his case, reading aloud an email from Gottlieb Simon, executive director of the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions: “You have the form yourself and can show it to anyone who wants to show you have been sworn in.” While Roberts was still talking, Henderson ended ANC 5D’s first public meeting of the year. (Simon later confirmed that he was aware of arrangements for Roberts to be sworn in at McDuffie’s office.)
Reflecting on that night, Shropshire described feeling that “the meeting was hijacked by [Henderson]… that she had a plot to come out of it, no matter what way, with her intention of being the chair.” Shropshire said it seemed like Henderson “would always try to, like, do something that we weren’t aware of, or to catch us off guard.” She said “[Henderson] already planned her little scheme… She let [Roberts] present on why he wanted to be chair, and all the while knowing that she was going to pull that.” In Shropshire’s view, “[Henderson] banked on confusion.”
In the months since that January meeting, the tension has only grown, driven by battles over what may seem like the most mundane things.
It is routine commission business, for example, for ANCs to participate in the ANC Security Fund. A commission is not permitted to spend any money until it either joins the fund or obtains an independent surety bond. The fund protects the commission against misappropriation and negligent losses of money by the chair and treasurer, such as when ANC 5B Chair William Shelton stole nearly $30,000 from the commission’s account from 2010 to 2011.
Unsurprisingly, it caused quite a stir at the January special meeting when three of the five commissioners present, including the recently elected treasurer, Shropshire, voted against participating in the fund. Henderson responded by issuing a press release on behalf of ANC 5D condemning her fellow commissioners. In “Commissioners Fail to Protect Operating Funds,” she wrote that “[i]n voting against participating in the ANC Security Fund, the commissioners violated the law and expose taxpayer dollars to needless risk.”
Four commissioners responded to the press release in a joint statement, explaining that they would not participate in the fund until Henderson complied with “multiple requests” to provide them access to “key documentation, such as financial reports, bank statements, and meeting minutes [that had] not been available to the Commission.” ANC 5D has no office, and mail to the commission goes to Henderson’s home address.
Participation in the ANC Security Fund, according to the D.C. Auditor, “requires the Chairperson and Treasurer to each agree… to be personally liable to the Fund for any sums paid out by the Fund as a result of wrongful misappropriation or negligent loss of ANC monies.” Shropshire said she was unwilling to assume personal liability for commission funds before being allowed to examine the relevant financial documents. The choice not to participate in the fund meant that the Auditor would freeze the commission’s accounts, leaving them unable to spend any money.
In March, Shropshire produced a treasurer’s report detailing concerns about certain expenses charged to the ANC, including three big-ticket items: plaques, a laptop computer, and an unpaid cell phone bill.
Henderson, on behalf of ANC 5D, purchased six plaques for $742 in December 2014. Four plaques went to retiring commissioners, while then-Councilmember David Catania and outgoing Mayor Vince Gray each received their own, fancier plaque. Henderson, who was both treasurer and chair at the time, and Lewis, who was vice chair and secretary, signed the checks (both deposit and payment in full).
Shropshire’s report indicated the plaques “may not be allowable expenses per [the D.C. Auditor].” The plaques were indeed deemed non-allowable, resulting in a $742 deduction from ANC 5D’s quarterly allotment.
In November of 2014, ANC 5D reimbursed Henderson $1,224.96 for a laptop, software, and support purchased from Staples on Aug. 29. Because ANC 5D has no office, Henderson keeps the laptop at her home, Blacknell said. If other commissioners wish to use it, they must contact Henderson to arrange a time for pick-up and sign a form promising to return it in the same condition. Two weeks, later Henderson bought ANC 5D a printer. Blacknell, Buggs, Roberts, and Shropshire all say that they purchase their own materials for printing minutes, flyers, and other ANC-related materials. No commissioner this year has been reimbursed for purchasing such supplies.
The three veteran commissioners, Blacknell, Henderson, and Lewis, each have an ANC cell phone issued during a prior term, while the new commissioners conduct ANC business on their personal phones. There are also two additional cell phones on the shared plan.
Five phone bills I examined from 2014 (January, February, April, May, and December) and one from 2015 (August) were sent to the attention of India Henderson at Kathy Henderson’s home address. Buggs, Roberts, and Shropshire say they have not seen any other phone bills for 2015, despite repeated requests that Henderson produce them. By September, the balance on the cell phone bill would reach $2,023.17.
Simon of OANC said he spoke to T-Mobile representatives who told him “the only people they could give a copy of the bills to” were the people named on the account, Kathy and India Henderson. T-Mobile representatives also told Simon “that it was T-Mobile’s practice not to have… individual contracts with individual government agencies,” and “that in response to Cm Henderson’s assurances, they had (ironically) continued to provide service long after the time they would normally suspend service,” Simon said.
The phone bills reveal a clear pattern: While two phones showed no usage and two others showed moderate usage, a fifth showed very high usage in 2014 (a monthly average of 1,282 minutes). A call placed to the fifth phone’s number went to voicemail with Kathy Henderson’s greeting recorded; Henderson has given out the phone’s number in emails.
At the November 2015 special meeting, ANC 5D specifically addressed the ongoing concerns about the cell phones. According to Roberts, OANC had advised they not pay the bill “unless we could demonstrate that the commission authorized a contractual relationship with T-Mobile… and/or authorization to pay this bill on an ongoing basis.” Simon also sought guidance from the Office of the Attorney General. In response to Simon’s explanation, OAG wrote to him in October that the ANC is under no obligation to pay the bill if the full commission did not approve a contract. ANC 5D commissioners serving in 2013 signed a cell-phone policy agreement that year, but it made no mention of T-Mobile and stated that the “commission shall select a plan from a minimum of three bids from the major service providers.”
Simon said it “is unclear… whether ANC 5D ever voted to approve having service with T-Mobile. The minutes that I have reviewed do not show that a vote was ever taken.”
On July 29, 2010, Henderson withdrew from the Democratic primary race for the Ward 5 seat after a rival challenged signatures she needed to get on the ballot. The next day, she issued a press release entitled “Voters Denied Opportunity to Choose Best Democrat.” Soon after, Henderson announced that she would run for the seat as an independent.
On Sept. 6 of that year, Henderson found her face and name splashed across local media after she removed campaign signs for Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. and Council chair candidate Kwame Brown from in front of the Capital City Diner on Bladensburg Road NE, leaving in their place a campaign sign for Mayor Adrian Fenty. Diner owner Matt Ashburn, who stated that Henderson did not have his permission to remove the signs, captured the incident via security camera.
The next day, Henderson put out a press release accusing Ashburn of conspiring with Thomas Jr., and “devis[ing] a scheme to accuse Ms. Henderson of removing the signs without permission” and “knowingly fabricat[ing] the incident and fil[ing] a false police report to undermine [Henderson’s] candidacy for the Ward 5 City Council seat.” She also suggested Ashburn had been paid, or offered other compensation to participate in the alleged scheme. These allegations would later form part of a libel suit against Henderson.
Jimmy Valentine’s opened at 1103 Bladensburg Road NE in August of 2007. At the time, that was within the boundaries of ANC 5B10, India Henderson’s SMD. Kathy Henderson protested the tavern’s initial attempt to obtain a liquor license, but that protest was dismissed after Henderson attempted to enter into the record at an Alcoholic Beverage Control Board hearing a protest letter with 22 signatures that weren’t signatures at all, but a list of names typed out in different fonts. Henderson claimed these were “electronic signatures.”
Henderson continued to make allegations about owner Mark Thorp and the business, labeling Jimmy Valentine’s a haven for illegal activity and a source of trash and general disorder in the community. On May 5, 2011, JVLHC, LLC (Jimmy Valentine’s Lonely Hearts Club) and Ashburn Foods, LLC (Capital City Diner) filed a civil complaint for libel against Henderson. The court battle would drag on for nearly four years and ultimately resulted in the seizure and sale at public auction of a condo Henderson owned near Malcolm X Park to satisfy a judgment in excess of $140,000.
Henderson has a long history of contention regarding liquor licenses generally. In the fall of 2009, she requested an SMD-wide ban on single sales of alcoholic beverages and a moratorium that would “prohibit any restaurant that is not a part of an established chain of restaurants from obtaining any… license to serve and sell alcoholic beverages of any kind on its premises.” She explained the plan at the time to City Paper: “If you are not a chain with a proven track record, such as T.G.I. Friday’s or Ruby Tuesday, you will not be welcome to come.”
With development pushing into ANC 5D’s section of Bladensburg Road from multiple directions, many hold out hope that the comparatively lower rents might attract interest from entrepreneurs who find the H Street NE corridor unaffordable. Anwar Saleem, executive director of H Street Main Street—a nonprofit business development organization that recently expanded its activities to include Bladensburg Road—is among those who share this vision. Saleem has delivered presentations at community meetings highlighting Bladensburg Road’s commercial potential, and his organization has hosted concerts and other events at Starburst Plaza.
But the disorder within ANC 5D has had a major impact on residents, businesses, and developers who must appear before the commission to seek letters of support for various reasons, including for construction projects requiring variances or special exceptions, or for liquor licenses. In some cases, even after the commission voted to support an endeavor, those crucial letters were never sent.
Saleem said Henderson has more than once been an obstacle. “She doesn’t want anyone doing anything in her area,” he said. “She doesn’t want any help. She wants to do it all on her own.” Saleem believes Henderson’s actions have a negative effect on development on Bladensburg Road: “I really think she’s hurting it. She’s antagonizing the small business owners and the same with the developers.” Asked why he hasn’t delivered his presentation on Bladensburg Road development to ANC 5D, he replied, “Kathy Henderson won’t have us.”
“You have to be reasonable, and I think some of the things she’s asking for are just totally unreasonable,” he said. “As a leader, you have to be balanced.” Saleem made it clear that he doesn’t believe Henderson has that balance.
This concern echoed sentiments Shropshire expressed, too. “I don’t think that it’s business friendly,” she said of ANC 5D. “[Henderson] makes it seem like it’s residents against businesses.”
I spoke with a local business owner who has many years of experience in the hospitality industry, and who holds ownership and management interests in restaurant and tavern businesses in other District neighborhoods. (He asked to remain anonymous because he might soon appear before ANC 5D.) The business owner said he had been approached about a venture serving food and alcohol along the stretch of Bladensburg Road that borders Trinidad. He expressed excitement about the prospect, but also concern about ANC 5D’s—and specifically Henderson’s—reputation. He was worried that doing business at the proposed location could bring harassment and unnecessary headaches he would likely not face elsewhere.
In addition to her high-profile feud with Jimmy Valentine’s, Henderson more recently has clashed with Bardo Brewpub, against which she led a small outdoor protest in May. At a May ANC meeting, Henderson asked the owners of Masseria, an upscale Italian restaurant near Union Market, if they would be willing to pledge to voluntarily surrender their liquor license if there are ever “any issues. Any calls for service, any police issues, anything that disturbs the peace, order, and quiet of the community.”
On an audio recording of that meeting, the restaurant’s representatives seem caught off guard by the question. Liquor licenses are neither easily obtained nor cheap, and they can determine the survival or failure of a restaurant.
“If you are going to make it that difficult… people are not going to improve their property, and the neighborhood won’t improve,” said Roberts, adding that the same is true for people who want to open businesses in ANC 5D.
Compounding the commission’s problems, some commissioners said, is the fact that it’s almost exclusively Henderson who sets the agendas for ANC 5D meetings, and they are often not available to the public or the other commissioners until the meeting. “Initially, you send something to her and she makes a decision whether or not she wants to add it to the agenda,” according to Shropshire, but “[Henderson] just doesn’t put stuff on there now.”
Even those agendas that are occasionally circulated ahead of time tend to come out only hours before meetings and contain very little information about items to be covered. This makes it difficult for people to decide whether to attend, and virtually impossible for anyone, including the commissioners, to research issues ahead of time.
There have even been dueling agendas. A week before the Nov. 10 meeting, several commissioners released an agenda drafted without input from Henderson that focused heavily on unresolved administrative matters. Henderson put out her own agenda the afternoon of the meeting. Henderson arrived early and placed copies of her agenda on audience seats. Buggs arrived soon after to add copies of the first agenda, but Henderson followed behind her removing those copies.
No agenda is final until the ANC votes to adopt it. The motion to adopt Henderson’s agenda failed, garnering only two votes. But Henderson ignored the failure, saying “OK, we’re still moving forward.” Lee protested, but Henderson refused to recognize him, prompting Lee to declare “You’re out of order because you’re abusing your power as chair.” Henderson refused “to entertain” any discussion of the other proposed agenda. Lee stood and read a section on agendas from the ANC handbook. Henderson shouted over him repeating “You are out of order,” while banging her hand repeatedly on the table.
Lewis asked an MPD officer, present to deliver a public safety report, to intervene, adding “The officer needs to step in. We don’t need chaos tonight.” Henderson asked, “Would someone please call MPD?” The officer stood to the side while Henderson loudly repeated the words “You are out of order” over and over again, and then told Lee “if you have a complaint you can take it up with Mr. Simon.” Roberts made a motion to adopt the commissioners’ agenda, and it passed. Henderson ignored the vote and ordered the MPD officer to deliver the public safety report.
As the argument continued, Buggs, Blacknell, Roberts, and Shropshire walked out of the meeting in protest of Henderson refusing to recognize the agenda that ANC 5D had voted to adopt. ANC 5D had lost its quorum, leaving it unable to take any further binding action. Henderson cut one of the remaining presentations short, and concluded the meeting by comparing her struggles with her fellow commissioners to those of President Obama and Congress, and said that she did not “completely blame” her colleagues for discord within ANC 5D because “they are getting bad advice” from OANC’s Simon, whom Henderson described as “out of control.”
A group of commissioners held a special meeting the following week to address the unresolved administrative matters. Henderson did not attend, but ANC 5D did have a quorum. The commissioners present attended to the outstanding administrative matters without disruption.
On April 14, ANC 5D voted to join the Security Fund. Shropshire emailed all commissioners saying the next step was to add officers as signers on the bank account. Shropshire reiterated that the D.C. Auditor considered it a best practice in order to avoid gridlock should either the treasurer or the chair be unwilling or unavailable to sign a check. Shropshire arranged with TD Bank for each officer to sign the signature card. But Henderson continued to refuse to add any names to the account, Shropshire said.
On May 9, Buggs, Lee, and Shropshire visited a TD Bank branch on Rhode Island Avenue NE and completed a signature card to add their names to the account. The bank placed the card on file and updated the account with Shropshire’s contact information and mailing address. According to Shropshire, Henderson visited the bank demanding that she remain the primary point of contact and that no names be added to the account absent her permission and presence. Simon said that Henderson “apparently instructed the local branch manager not to accept the other qualified officers.” TD Bank reverted the account to its original state, removing the new signers and address.
Shropshire returned to the bank to assure them that the changes made on May 9 were official and approved, but she said a TD Bank employee informed her they could not make the changes. On May 14, OANC drafted a formal letter to TD Bank citing District law and ANC regulations, and included names and photos of all officers who were to be added onto the account. The letter was presented, but bank employees would not make the changes, stressing that this was not a bank issue but a D.C. government issue, Shropshire said.
Shropshire again asked Henderson at the July 14 meeting to sign the new card, but the conversation devolved into accusations and arguments. Simon said he then contacted the Office of the Chief Technology Officer’s banking office. That office in turn contacted its TD Bank liaison and “obtained a fresh set of signature ‘cards’ for the 5D account,” Simon said.
“Commissioner Shropshire then invited the other officers to sign the form, contacting Commissioner Henderson both privately and publicly to invite her to sign as well,” Simon said. “When she still declined to do so after multiple invitations and more time had passed, the signed forms (minus Commissioner Henderson’s signature) were returned to the OCFO who then submitted them to their liaison person at TD… After the new form was entered into the TD system, Commissioner Henderson was no longer ‘on the account.’”
In mid-August, a D.C. government official contacted Shropshire to tell her that Henderson had visited different TD Bank branches and attempted to withdraw all funds from the account and move them into a new account, Shropshire said. Though the ANC had submitted the paperwork to join the Security Fund, approval would not come until Aug. 19, Shropshire said, leaving the account funds unprotected until then. On Aug. 18, Henderson emailed the entire ANC. “Your actions are suspicious, improper and very likely illegal,” Henderson wrote, addressing Buggs, Lee, and Shropshire. “I am generously offering you 24 hours to explain your actions before I take next steps. What checks did you write and what funds have you withdrawn and how many debit cards did you receive/ order?”
Shropshire responded, calling Henderson’s claims “untrue and [her] accusations… false.” She addressed Henderson directly, writing “I want to take this opportunity to remind you of your choice not to sign the bank signature card required to establish the ANC Security Fund which is necessary for our Commission to access funds.”
“Can you please enlighten us as to why you visited the bank and why you attempted to access funds from the ANC account without consulting with the ANC 5D Treasurer and your fellow Commissioners?” Shropshire wrote.
On Aug. 27, commissioners received an email from Deputy District of Columbia Auditor Lawrence Perry advising them that their accounts were once again frozen as a protective measure after a “member of ANC 5D… visited different TD Bank branches around the city requesting a change in signers and to access the account and that this [was] causing concerns among bank branch staff.” The email also requested the surrender of ANC 5D’s checkbook to the Auditor. Simon confirmed that Henderson was the unnamed commissioner mentioned in Perry’s email, and said the TD Bank liaison told him she had visited “at least seven” TD Bank branches. “TD Bank complained that [Henderson] was ‘really causing problems,’” he said.
“I think it’s going to be an uphill battle,” Roberts said of fixing ANC 5D. “I think right now running an ANC 5D meeting is going to be a little like an out-of-control classroom. There are people who are on task and people that aren’t.” He worries that ANC 5D’s meetings present “an unwelcoming climate.”
“The only way that ANC 5D will be taken seriously is if we are building as big a tent as possible of people, meaning we need to be taken seriously. There needs to be an image that we are being as inclusive as possible, as transparent as possible.”
Getting a functional website up and running is part of that plan, and so is reaching out to the neighborhood’s sizable deaf community. Shropshire has made a point of offering American Sign Language interpretation at her monthly SMD meetings.
Asked what she wants for the future, Shropshire said she’d like ANC 5D to “have a new chair” and for commissioners to “work more collaboratively together.” She also expressed a desire for the ANC to take a more comprehensive view of the impact of development projects, rather than treating each SMD as though it exists in a vacuum. Roberts and Shropshire both spoke about their desire to increase resident engagement, possibly through citizen committees on topics like liquor licenses, zoning, and public safety, and to build a better relationship with existing and potential new local businesses. They also said they’ve been in contact with the Office of Planning about a path forward for Bladensburg Road.
ANC 5D has a future, hopefully a brighter one. Whether Kathy Henderson’s future involves a seat at its commissioner table is an open question that only her constituents can answer.
Elise Bernard is a blogger and former ANC 5B commissioner, and has been a resident of the Trinidad neighborhood for over a decade.