Earlier this month, the Shaw advisory neighborhood commission was about to start its usual monthly meeting (having moved from the Africare House, its usual location, to the United House of Prayer) when a constituent was singled out for videotaping the proceedings. ANC Chair Doris Brooks asked Brian Smith, proprietor of the OffSeventh neighborhood blog, to stop taping the April 4 meeting, but he refused. He insisted that he needed to tape it for neighbors who weren’t able make it. Smith explained to Brooks that ANC meetings are public and that recording the proceedings is completely allowed. Brooks shouted, “This is not a public meeting!” and then adjourned.

Before Brooks was able to cancel the meeting, some neighbors voiced their concern that the meeting had been moved from the Africare House to the United House of Prayer church, where Brooks is a member. The characteristically boisterous Mary Sutherland, who ran unsuccessfully against Commissioner Alex Padro for the 2C01 seat in November, stood up and told meeting goers that if they didn’t like the new rules and change of venue, they could leave. A church official even stepped in before the meeting was adjourned to ask that everyone honor “Sister Brooks'” request to turn off their recording devices. This set off neighbor concerns about the separation of church and state.

Since longstanding ANC Chair Leroy Thorpe lost his bid for re-election to political newcomer Kevin Chapple, the meetings have become increasingly contentious. Neighbors began videotaping the proceedings and posting footage on youtube.com in January. In each of the videos, Brooks protests.

“[Since that meeting] now I think everyone has calmed down and maybe it’s time to start a real dialog about how to make things better in Shaw,” Smith said today.