[from October 2000 issue]


Late last year we wrote glowingly of at-large Councilmember David Catania's efforts to craft legislation that would ensure improvement in the operation and accountability of the city's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs). The bill was designed to giv e the ANCs more clout with city agencies and decision-makers, but the trade-off was to impose on those bodies a requirement that they provide basic due process if their recommendations were to be accorded the magical "great weight" that is supposed to be their reward for serving as the torch-bearers for the residents in the trenches.

Among other things, we wrote, "In our view, the bill's most outstanding contribution to good government is the linking of increased ANC clout in the regulatory process to a requirement for adhering to the rules of administrative due process." (See, "Bring ing The ANCs Into the Due Process Fold; Councilmember Catania to be Congratulated," From the Publisher's Desk, November 1999, page 2.)

We explained our enthusiastic approval for the Catania bill in the following fashion:

"What this means is that ANCs will have to conduct their business in accordance with proper due process procedures consistent with the District's own Administrative Procedures Act, something which this newspaper has advocated for many years. No longer wil l it be acceptable to base actions on vague impressions, unfounded notions, non-existent "facts," or worse. ANCs will have to conduct orderly and fair hearings, following genuinely adequate notice to all affected parties, allow for rebuttals and even cros s-examination, and to otherwise conduct their fact-finding efforts in a manner that will ensure absolute fairness with a record based on provable facts."

Unfortunately, as it ultimately turned out, the city council in an act of incredible idiocy struck out those parts of the bill that would have ensured fairness, but retained the provisions conferring upon the ANCs greater clout. In our view, this was an e gregious act; the sponsors should have withdrawn their bill rather than allow it to go forward in such decimated form.

Now, thanks to the gutting of that bill, petitioners for permits and licenses and other matters affecting their livelihood are potentially even more at the mercy of poorly informed--or worse--volunteer neighborhood commissioners, too many of whom believe their role is to serve as legislator or adjudicator rather than in the advisory role contemplated under home rule.

Thus it has become even more urgent than ever that residents take these ANC elections very seriously. By all means they must think seriously about the candidates and seek out for election only those who demonstrate by either prior deeds or indications of seriousness of purpose for future service that they are both capable and of the mindset to review and act upon issues coming before them in a fair and responsible manner.

For voters, as well as sitting or aspiring ANC commissioners, who are curious, we can point to many role models to be admired. One such ANC commissioner is David Stephens, who represents 2,000 residents around 14th Street on the Logan Circle ANC. We have not always agreed with him 100 percent, but we know that he has never reached a decision without careful study and analysis and a willingness to seriously listen to all viewpoints. He is fairness personified, and he is precisely the sort of commissioner w ho deserves to be re-elected.

Unlike many commissioners in other ANCs, Stephens would never allow himself to cajole his fellow commissioners into acting against an applicant (many would say, "supplicant") based on conjecture or rumor. He would insist that he have all the facts and he would certainly not condone proceeding against anyone without giving them an opportunity to be heard and answer or refute charges aimed against them. That's why persons like David Stephens must get our votes. He and those like him are all that stand betwe en arbitrary and capricious ANC actions and fundamental fairness, now that the council has stacked the deck against individuals who may not be popular or who may represent some activity that is not to the liking a few self-appointed guardians.

Maybe the best answer is to "clean house" around the ANC world. In Dupont, for example, there are many excellent people seeking to unseat incumbents. Voters need to get out and listen to them and hear what they have to say. We suspect that many of those n ew candidates are as appalled by how the ANCs too often have become captured by a few highly vocal activists; we need to see more people on ANCs that truly communicate with, listen to, and represent their constituents. If we cannot see to it that the ANC system is reformed from within, with the active participation of the voters--not the usual handful of candidates' friends and cronies--then we must face the fact that the ANC system should be disbanded entirely.