Although Loose Lips’ item “Pulling Up the Grassroots” (5/14) was immensely entertaining in its description of the ANC 6A meeting and ensuing antics, its conclusion—that advisory neighborhood commissions should be replaced with another level of bureaucracy—is not the solution.
Interestingly, almost one year ago, Washington City Paper devoted its feature article to the criticism of ANCs, concentrating on the few commissioners who had abused their positions. The conclusion was the same—that ANCs should be done away with. I was not a commissioner at that time, but I was disturbed by the article because my neighborhood had benefited immensely from the work of our commission, ANC 7B, Naylor/Dupont. As a newly elected commissioner, I now have firsthand appreciation for the amount of work that commissioners undertake, all on their own time and often at their own expense. It’s no wonder that some of the commission seats are vacant. Commissioners are paid nothing and receive little recognition for the work they do.
This is not to say there are not problem ANCs. There is a definite need for reform, and Councilmember David Catania should be commended for his commitment to taking on this task. Catania recently conducted hearings, having the chairman and treasurer of each ANC answer a series of questions to determine whether the ANC is serving its purpose and complying with the law. During these hearings, I was impressed by the number of newly elected commissioners who had come into “troubled” ANCs, inheriting all the problems and negative reputation of these ANCs, determined to repair the damage and to try to make their neighborhoods a better place to live. Also, I was embarrassed by the testimony of a few commissioners who either were ignorant of the laws governing ANCs or had decided they were above the law. Hopefully, as a result of these hearings, reforms will be implemented so that commissioners cannot abuse their authority and steal public funds.
Loose Lips recommended replacing ANCs with eight subcouncils, each having nine officials (72 officials in all), but he did not touch on whether these individuals would be paid. Assuming they would, the new system would open itself to those whose only motive would be to obtain supplementary income. ANC commissioners are volunteers, so regardless of their final performance most are initially motivated to make a positive difference. Also, since each subcouncil would be anchored to a ward and not a particular section of the ward, some parts of the ward could be ignored while other parts received all the attention. This phenomenon can be seen currently in the relationships of some councilmembers to their wards. Although there would be fewer officials in all under the new system, public funds would still be involved, because subcouncils would require allotments in order to run their offices. Thus the new system could be open to the same abuse as the ANC system unless stricter guidelines were enforced. Assuming subcouncil officials would not be paid, I sincerely doubt that 72 volunteers could be found who would be willing to devote the time required to adequately address the problems that 277 ANC commissioners currently address.
Commissioner, ANC 7B
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