Your cover story, “Democracy Inaction” (5/29), was right to highlight flaws in the District’s advisory neighborhood commission system. But the report was so one-sided that ANC commissioners throughout the city can’t help but feel the article was mean-spirited.
The ANCs have always been a mixed lot. At any one time there may be a handful that are completely dysfunctional. Sometimes it’s criminal: Almost every other year a commission somewhere is the victim of embezzlement. But these problems, although serious, are not justification to condemn all 37 ANCs to extinction.
ANCs can be very effective. The success of ANC 4A fighting the dubious Gateway Project at the top of 16th Street comes to mind. Or of ANC 5B trying to get rid of the scourge known as trash transfer stations. Or 1E leading the successful effort to get the alcohol licensing law amended to be more neighborhood-friendly. Or 7D exposing the environmental dangers at Pepco’s Benning Road power plant. This list could go on for pages.
I used to staff the City Council Government Operations Committee’s oversight of ANCs, I am a long-time commissioner, and I currently chair ANC 3C. I know firsthand that ANCs would be less troubled if they received more training. You cannot expect neighborhood volunteerswhose only consistent, certifiable qualification is that they were publicly electedto be effective if no one trains them in how to practice before the Zoning Commission, Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, D.C. Council, and so forth.
Training would vastly improve the ANCs. That’s my preferred option. The other option, suggested in your article, would have the neighborhood commission system abolished. This would, in effect, stifle neighborhood empowerment.
As bad as they sometimes are, ANCs empower their neighborhoods. The ANCs are a conduit, by law, for notices from the government to the community, and for community comment in return. They are a means by which neighborhood groups and residents must be informed, if they want. They are means by which neighborhood residents can speak out, if they want. The ANCs even have a little money to put some muscle behind their viewsto pay for postage and copying and some of the out-of-pocket costs for neighborhood advocacy.
ANCs are an opportunity for residents. The fact that such an opportunity is sometimes wasted, as City Paper amply illustrates, does not justify eliminating an effective system for others.
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