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How should DC redraw ANC boundaries?

The US Census Bureau will be releasing detailed data for the District of Columbia this week, which will kick off the decennial process of adjusting DC's wards and, also very importantly, the boundaries for Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs).


Photo by swanksalot on Flickr.

The ANC boundaries are very important. ANCs have a role in everything from liquor licenses to bike lanes to new housing constructed in our neighborhoods.

Following the redistricting schedule used after Census 2000, the Council and Mayor will approve new ward boundaries by July. Task forces will then be convened in each ward to draw the new ANC boundaries. Those task forces will be appointed by the ward councilmembers, with the council chair and at-large councilmembers having the right to select a member for each ward's task force.

This DC Watch article on redistricting includes a section called "City Council Principles." The source of these principles is unclear, but if they are taken at face value, it's safe to assume that they haven't always been followed closely. The sixth principle states that the ANCs should be of approximately equal size, but ANC 2D has two commissioners, while each of the ANCs in Ward 5 (5A, 5B, and 5C) have 12 commissioners each.

With such large ANCs, commissioners are often voting on local quality of life issues very distant from their own homes. During last year's debates over a Big Bear liquor license in Bloomingdale, for example, commissioners from near Fort Totten Parkas far away from Bloomingdale as the White House is from Columbia Heightswere casting votes about whether Big Bear would create too much noise.

Very small ANCs can create their own problems. ANC 2C, which covers part of Shaw, has four commissioners. In recent years, it had numerous deadlocked 2-2 votes, including votes for chair, due to the presence of two factions overtly at odds with each other. Over the years, incidentally, ANC 2C has shrunk from 22 to 11 to 4 single member districts (SMDs), according to long-time resident Ray Milefsky.

Last fall, I spoke with Mary Eva Candon, formerly of ANC 2D in Sheridan-Kalorama, about the unique situation of being a commissioner on the only two-member ANC in the city. When asked if compromise is required to avoid deadlocked 1-1 votes, she responded, "We don't have tie votes; we work through our neighborhood's issues thoroughly and thoughtfully, open to all neighbors/residents input. In the eight years I have been one of a two-member ANC, we have never had a tie vote." This may be the only example of complete agreement in an American governmental body I've ever come across.

The ANCs in Ward 2 generally mirror neighborhoods, and in fact they are often called the "Dupont Circle ANC" (2B), "Georgetown ANC" (2E), and so forth. In other wards, there is little connection between and ANC and its neighborhood. Brookland, in Ward 5, is actually split between two ANCs (5A and 5B). ANC 4A contains neighborhoods between Georgia Avenue and Rock Creek Park in the northermost part of the city, and then also Crestwood, separated from the others by parkland.

There are currently 286 SMDs in the city. If the average size of an SMD continues to include 2,000 residents, as has been the practice in the past, the city's new population of 601,723 will yield approximately 301 commissioners. That means 15 new SMDs will be added in the parts of the city that have seen significant population growth.

One of the most controversial parts of drawing SMDs may be around universities. Some districts include large numbers of students, but they have little voice on the area's ANC.

New ANC boundaries should take into account how neighborhoods have changed and how relationships between commercial and residential space in the city have evolved, while also considering how those relationships are planned to continue to change in the coming decade. The city's population has grown for the first time since the 1940s, and new ANCs that accurately mirror that growth are needed.

I will discuss ideas for potential new ANCs in a future post.

Geoff Hatchard is an employee of the US Census Bureau, but the opinions in this article are his personal views alone and do not represent the Bureau's opinion or position on any issues.

Geoff Hatchard lived in DC's Trinidad neighborhood. The opinions and views expressed in Geoff's writing on this blog are his, and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer. 

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ANCs are supposed to be the neighborhood's advisory body for issues affecting that neighborhood which are being ultimately decided by either District-wide or federal bodies. They are effectively a 4th branch of government in the District being created in the home rule charter in the same way the Council and the Mayor's Office is created. Yet, we give them a number and not a name, and more peculiarly, we give them a number linked to the Wards with which they have neither a legal connection nor are supposed to be reporting to. And THAT is the crux of the problem.

The Council setting 'principles' for what an ANC should be like is analogous to the Congress setting 'principles' for what the Supreme Court or the Executive Branch should be like. And that is why it doesn't work.

The ANCs should be given names that match their neighborhoods (we all do it informally anyways) and their bounderies should be relatively fixed to match the neighborhoods boundaries and not some Ward councilmember's needs of the moment. These boundaries should not shift from census to census short of some geopolitical change requiring a change of borders, as occured when the western part of Shaw redefinied itself as the never-before-existing "Logan Circle". And the Ward boundaries should be of absolutely no consequence. The historic, polictical, and economic realities of what are our 'town' (aka 'neighborhoods') here in the District should be the only criteria for determining the ANC boundaries. Yes, we can still try to keep the number of residents represented by an ANC commissioner to around 2,000 ... but if a neighborhood really is (as defined by its historic, political, and economic realities) a collection of 20,000 residents, then it needs its 10 commissioners ... just like the neighborhood of 4,000 needs its 2 commissioners. It's not like the commissioners ever meet as one city-wide group where difference in size would influence a vote. The only votes taken of ANC commissioners are within their individual ANC commissioners. So, just like the US can be representative with representatives representing 300 million people, and Britain can be equally representative of its population of 50 million, the ANCs can just as justifiably represent differing numbers of people ... reflecting the actual sizes of the neighborhoods which the ANCs, per the home rule charter, are supposed to be working as the advocate for in an advisory nature to District and federal agencies and boards.

by Lance on Mar 22, 2011 8:49 am • linkreport

A desire for a neighborhood advisory body is no excuse for poor institutional design of civic bodies.

ANCs with an even number of members are a great example. Another example - perpetually unfilled SMDs (there's one in 6B that is entirely occupied by the DC Jail, for example. I don't believe that seat has ever been filled).

by Alex B. on Mar 22, 2011 8:54 am • linkreport

Lance brings up an interesting idea - having the ANCs not be tied to the wards. There is precedent for this.

ANC 3G is currently located in both wards 3 and 4. It was in ward 3 before the last redistricting, but instead of splitting it up, it was allowed to remain one ANC. While this is advantageous at the neighborhood level (Chevy Chase is pretty much covered by one local level of government), it becomes problematic further up. Who does the ANC lobby on the council when they have an issue they want dealt with? What happens if Mary Cheh and Muriel Bowser are on different sides of such an issue. It provides an unique problem.

Meanwhile, the Southwest Waterfront area was moved from Ward 2 to Ward 6 after the last redistricting, but for whatever reason some of the SMDs straddle the line between the wards. Most of these areas that are in ANC 6D (but in Ward 2) have no population and are federal land (like Hains Point), so there are few practical problems here.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 22, 2011 9:13 am • linkreport

Alex: Agreed, but would it be better to have an unfilled SMD containing the jail, or say 3 SMDs containing pieces of the jail where the commissioners in question don't represent jail residents at all, and therefore essentially get 1 vote on the ANC for representing fewer than 2,000 people?

New York State has gotten criticism for the way inmates in upstate prisons count toward districts around there, basically giving the surrounding areas more representation. Each district is smaller than it would be otherwise, but the reps there don't have to seek votes from the prisoners, so they essentially represent less populous districts.

by David Alpert on Mar 22, 2011 9:15 am • linkreport

The DC Jail is a tricky one. I don't know what the best solution is - I would just note that in the same context as ensuring an odd number of commissioners in each ANC, you'd want to account for seats like the jail that are likely to remain unfilled.

by Alex B. on Mar 22, 2011 9:21 am • linkreport

@Geoffrey - Can't ANC 3G "lobby" the CM for the ward in which the issue arises? E.g., if the liquor license they oppose is in Ward 3, then Cheh; if the curb cut is in Ward 4, then Bowser. And if it cuts across boundaries, then both.

I agree that Ward boundaries shouldn't govern ANC boundaries. To be sure, for the most part they'll be wholly contained, but because Wards do need to be the same size, unlike ANCs, the borders can fluctuate in odd ways. But that shouldn't determine ANC borders.

by ah on Mar 22, 2011 9:21 am • linkreport

Geoff and Lance,

I was going to say: the way the system is currently set up one of the most effective things an ANC Commissioner can do is cultivate a relationship with(and constantly bug) their council member about issues relating to their neighborhood. If CM's no longer felt a connection with ANC's on that level I wonder if it would effect the nature of those relationships?

On the other hand, giving ANC's greater autonomy might be just the thing they need to become more effective...

by Matt R. on Mar 22, 2011 9:22 am • linkreport

22 commissioners?! That's crazy. Two seems too small to me, though. Sure, they can always agree but it probably means they're not getting as much input as the ANCs would.

I think it's important for an ANC to be in a particular ward. That way they only have to lobby one CM's staff. Arguably having two CM's on your side can help, but I suspect it doesn't work out that way. Also, not mentioned yet are police districts. I think it probably makes sense for the ANCs to match the PSAs, or at the very least, stay within on police district. Although you could make the case that people like the Borderstan group have shown the benefit of working with two police districts to better police the boundary blocks.

by TM on Mar 22, 2011 9:49 am • linkreport

@Lance: Calling ANCs a fourth branch of government isn't quite right; they don't even govern. They advise, and, technically speaking at least, their decisions don't actually decide anything, they just advise actual decision-makers as to the opinion of the neighborhood.

Other than that, though, I actually largely agree with Lance's idea that ANC boundaries ought to reflect neighborhood boundaries. But the trouble with that is, of course, how to define a neighborhood. Some areas are part of a few different neighborhoods of different sizes. Some people might live in a residential neighborhood that's part of a larger neighborhood that includes retail, restaurants, bars, offices, etc. Should the people in the residential neighborhood have power over the businesses there? Just one example of how it can be difficult if your stated purpose is to draw neighborhood boundaries.

by Tim on Mar 22, 2011 10:09 am • linkreport

What about gerrymandering of districts to preserve seats? Not the type you usually see on a state level (e.g., to ensure proper racial representation), but rather simply to preserve a current ANC member's district? Look at ANC 3D, which has an oddball corner of Wesley Heights in the same SMD has several large apartment buildings on the other side of New Mexico Ave, but the balance of Wesley Heights also includes townhouses/apartments on Westover Place and Mass. Ave.

And then there's the treatment of AU, which is split in half (to make sure students don't get a seat?) and is surrounded by Tom Smith's district, which incorporates what is currently a large parking lot (and which he hopes to keep that way).

Of course some of this no doubt is made difficult by dense apartment development combined with much less dense SFH, combined with a large student population that counts towards ANC representation. Nonetheless it seems to create an odd mix of interests within each SMD.

http://www.anc3d.org/resources/maps.html

by ah on Mar 22, 2011 10:43 am • linkreport

@Lance
The Council setting 'principles' for what an ANC should be like is analogous to the Congress setting 'principles' for what the Supreme Court or the Executive Branch should be like. And that is why it doesn't work.

Actually, it isn't like that. It's the lawmaking body (Congress/Council) making principles (laws) about how we should create the districts that elected officials represent (congressional districts/ANC districts). And they DO and HAVE made those laws.

As for your argument that ANCs should be related to neighborhoods, you're right. You're wrong though that definitions/outlines of mental geographic areas like "neighborhoods" can't, shouldn't, or don't ever change. One need only look at what was defined as "Eastern Europe" 40 years ago and how it's defined now to see that these things do change (same with how people in different parts of the USA may define its regions differently). Neighborhoods are a combination of social and geographical identities so their boundaries can change - one neighborhood can be carved from another if its social identity changes enough.

by MLD on Mar 22, 2011 10:45 am • linkreport

When I served as a Commissioner, my Commission's boundaries very closely tracked that of a distinct neighborhood. Unfortunately, I believe, to the detriment of our greater community. We all know how neighborhoods in DC can have different characters even within a block or two of one another, but the ANC boundaries can actually create an invisible line of divisiveness between communities that should be working together.

Moreover, I would argue that ANCs can offer the best training ground for a "Junior Varsity" political team. It really is a great place to learn how DC government works and to serve your community. Competition breeds excellence and it would be great to see more Commissioners like Bryan Weaver step up to bring their experience to the Council.

That being said, though, I think 2000 residents is too small a constituency and I also think any more is too much to handle on a volunteer basis. Frankly, I'd rather see fewer Commissions. Perhaps instead of Single Member Districts, we create Multi-Member Districts? Or perhaps we allow for At-Large seats on Commissions.

There are 37 ANCs and 39 Neighborhood Clusters in DC. Why have so many divisions? Why not reduce that by half? We could streamline the number of meetings and constituencies that need to exist for every single decision.

by Phil Lepanto on Mar 22, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

How should DC redraw ANC boundaries?

How about not drawing them? Many of them are utterly dysfunctional, some function like an HOA, some are unfilled, and some too small to lead to anything else than NIMBYism. How about making the City Council a full time job and saving the district a layer of bureaucraZy?

by Jasper on Mar 22, 2011 12:09 pm • linkreport

I suspect the reason why ANC's are designed based upon Wards and not upon actual neighborhoods is for the election process. Currently, if the ANC's fit within the boundaries of a Ward, they can design a ballot for each polling place with clear boundaries. If it is based upon a neighborhood rather than a Ward (unless you forced each neighborhood to exist within a single ward, which would set an arbitrary boundary anyway), then you would either have to vote in multiple polling places or each polling place would have to handle overlapping responsibilities.

by Ruby on Mar 22, 2011 12:29 pm • linkreport

I completely agree with Phil. The divisions within neighborhoods make some Commissioners territorial ("it's my SMD" when really it's part of a larger neighborhood that lots of people care about.) 2000 residents per SMD is way too small. I was elected by 600 people. It took more votes to be student council president in my high school.
We should have much larger single member districts (also solves the DC jail and AU dorm problem): I think around 10,000 people.
Because so many have either one or no candidate, we are not getting the best people to serve in these positions.
But more importantly, in my opinion, the structure of the ANCs doesn't work. The only power that the ANCs have is say "no" to things. So it attracts people who like saying no. This holds us back a city. We need to give ANCs some actual responsibility for getting things done - like the sidewalk shoveling law that had ANCs responsible for identifying people unable to shovel their own walks and organizing volunteers to help those people - then you might see a totally different type of person on the ANC.

by urbanette on Mar 22, 2011 12:35 pm • linkreport

I have removed a comment by "dccommish," former ANC 5C Commissioner Barrie Daneker, which just attacked Geoff and didn't actually respond or discuss any of the points in the article.

I've said it before, but comments that just are about the author and not about the post are not acceptable. In particular, any comment where it appears like the writer just looked at the byline and then didn't read any further before posting something obnoxious or nasty will be speedily deleted.

by David Alpert on Mar 22, 2011 12:39 pm • linkreport

There are two different issues, ANCs and how they are structured, and how ANC Commissioners are "trained" and deal with matters before them, the level of support they get, etc.

There is no question that in some wards, like Ward 5, the ANCs are too big and the way that they are structured brings together areas with little geographical contiguousness, e.g., why should be Fort Lincoln be in the same ANC as the neighborhood along N. Capitol. Similarly, why is Brookland split amongst all three Ward 5 ANCs?

Maybe there should be more ANCs, and they should be smaller, although it makes things "less fun" for people in certain ANCs as currently constituted. E.g., ANC6C includes part of Downtown and part of NE. So as a community rep. on the zoning committee it was fun to be able to deal with Downtown issues. OTOH, none of the ANCs covering Downtown issues ever talked to each other, at least from 2003-2005 when I was on the committee.

There are other ways to provide for varieties of community input and government. I wrote about it here:

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2011/02/highly-paid-dc-city-council-and.html

Sadly, this seems to be an undercovered area in public administration and governance scholarship.

The thing is it's time to review the Home Rule Charter, to my way of thinking. On this issue, and how the Council is structured as well. Plus the overarching empowerment of the executive .

by Richard Layman on Mar 22, 2011 1:01 pm • linkreport

Make the DC jail it's own ANC, not a SMD. Problem solved.

by David C on Mar 22, 2011 1:07 pm • linkreport

I am in agreement with Phil regarding the neighborhood clusters and ANCs. I am not in agreement with the idea that the ANCs are some sort of junior varsity.

I do not think being an ANC Commissioner ought to be any sort of litmus test for anything, particularly anything having to do with subsequent management of the city.

Sure, it is a nice way to learn about city functions, but there are many commissioners (not all by any stretch) who use ANCs as little fiefdoms.

Also, for what it is worth, a portion of ANC 3C is in Ward 1.

by Andrew on Mar 22, 2011 1:11 pm • linkreport

@Ruby - Ballots aren't really an issue. The precinct where I vote draws voters from 3 ANCs and a total of 5 SMDs. When you check in they figure out which ballot you get based on your registered address.

by ah on Mar 22, 2011 1:31 pm • linkreport

@TM 'Two seems too small to me, though. Sure, they can always agree but it probably means they're not getting as much input as the ANCs would.'

I was the longtime chair (and treasurer) of the 2-member commission mentioned above before MaryEva, who's quoted above, took my place. I can assure you that that commission gets input. It actually gets far more citizen input than the ANC area I now live in with its 8 commissioners. Because there are only 2 commissioners, it's far easier to treat the monthly meetings as 'town hall' meetings as the Home Rule Charter envisioned these meetings to be. Essentially, in my former ANC, the commissioners would act as facilitators during the meeting. They'd have the facts to present, and they'd keep order in the room, but it was the citizenry that discussed the matter and eventually reached the consensus on an issue which the 2 commissioners would formalize with a vote of the 2 commissioners. In my new ANC I find myself as a resident actually acting more as a spectator than a participant. The Commission discusses matters between itself and then, almost as an afterthought, asks if there are comments from the 'people out there'. This really seems backwards to me, and violently opposed to the whole idea of the town hall meeting. I mean, how can the commissioners know how to vote on an issue if the time before the vote is taken isn't spent hearing the community discuss its opinions on the issue ... and letting the community come to a consensus. Lacking that, what we end up with is the consensus of 8 private individuals ... and their private interests. This becomes most apparent when an ABC issue is involved and the issue happens to be near one commissioner's home. Rather than the greater interests of the neighborhood being discussed by all those present at the meeting (i.e., 'the people') you end up with the individual commissioners deferring to whatever that particular commissioner's private interests are. It's not what ANC were intended to do. And that's why some folks get upset with ANCs.

But maybe when you have 8 commissioners you can't let the residents into the discussion? Personally, I think you not only can, but should.

by Lance on Mar 22, 2011 1:40 pm • linkreport

@MLD Actually, it isn't like that. It's the lawmaking body (Congress/Council) making principles (laws) about how we should create the districts that elected officials represent (congressional districts/ANC districts). And they DO and HAVE made those laws.

You're anology doesn't work because while congressional districts are part of Congress, ANC districts are not part of the Council.

The proper analogy would be:

"It's the lawmaking body (Congress/Council) making principles (laws) about how we should create the districts that elected officials represent (congressional districts/WARDS).

by Lance on Mar 22, 2011 1:49 pm • linkreport

And incidentally, ANCs are legally NOT part of any ward. It's just that through naming conventions and other practices, the Ward Councilmembers have informally 'adopted' them because it is in their interests to have a group at the local level that they can influence/work with. The question is though, is it really in the ANCs interests, to be so tied to a Ward Councilmember? Would not competition among the Councilmembers for the ANCs' support for their issues be a little more condusive to better and more representative government over the long run?

by Lance on Mar 22, 2011 1:52 pm • linkreport

@MLD 'You're wrong though that definitions/outlines of mental geographic areas like "neighborhoods" can't, shouldn't, or don't ever change.

I didn't say they can't or shouldn't ever change. I actually gave an example of one that did ... Shaw breaking up into Shaw and Logan circle to reflect a new geopolitical reality (i.e., the western half of the neighborhood had gentrified while the eastern half hadn't ... at the time of the division). I'm just saying the change of ANC has to be based on changes in what makes up a neighborhood ... and not some idea that a neighborhood must have a certain number of commissioners equalling that of all other neighborhoods ... or that it must all fall within one Ward just because a Ward must by necessity adopt very artificial (i.e. non-historical, etc.) boundaries.

by Lance on Mar 22, 2011 2:01 pm • linkreport

@Ruby I suspect the reason why ANC's are designed based upon Wards and not upon actual neighborhoods is for the election process. Currently, if the ANC's fit within the boundaries of a Ward, they can design a ballot for each polling place with clear boundaries.

Actually, voting districts are based on census tracts. And so are the ANCs. And ANC commissioners get elected to represent SMDs (single member districts) which are themselves also based on census tracts. (I.e., It's not an issue.)

by Lance on Mar 22, 2011 2:08 pm • linkreport

Lance: SMD boundaries are not based on census tracts. One only has to look at the boundaries in my neighborhood (Trinidad) to see a good example of that. (PDF)

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 22, 2011 2:11 pm • linkreport

Um, no, Lance.

The wards mostly match Census tracts but in a number of places the lines don't match, where Councilmembers wanted to add or remove small areas at the borders.

The ANC boundaries bear very little relation to Census tracts, and SMD boundaries bear absolutely no relationship to tracts (they're generally much smaller than tracts).

Prcincts do seem to match them in many cases, but a quick glance made it clear there are many other cases where the lines were moved for other reasons.

by David Alpert on Mar 22, 2011 2:12 pm • linkreport

@David, Yes, you're correct ... it was precincts I had in mind. I was trying to explain that you get an individualized ballot based on your address because utlimately, both the voting areas are based on census 'pieces' (i.e. the precincts)

ah explained it best.

by Lance on Mar 22, 2011 2:17 pm • linkreport

@David, Incidentally, I was a member of the Ward 2 ANC redistricting committee last year and we were instructed to use the census tracks to create the SMD boundaries. Actually, we had to ... given that population numbers are only available down to that level. I've never really compared census tracks to precincts, but if precincts aren't composed of a defined agglomeration of census tracts, how would they know the number of residents in that precint? It's not like you can say 'that sliver of census track which falls over the line is 10 people'. I'm assuming that precincts MUST be based on known populations because that's the reason for the census. So, NOT using the census track lines as the border would mean not knowing the official number of residents ... No?

by Lance on Mar 22, 2011 2:25 pm • linkreport

No, Lance. There are smaller levels of census geography than tracts (note: the term is not track). There are blocks and block groups. Those smaller units are how we know how many people live in 'that sliver' of a census tract.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 22, 2011 2:27 pm • linkreport

Clearly, mostly active ANC members are present here. Most regular Washingtonians I speak barely know what ANCs are. Clearly, you can not ask those who are active in a system to evaluate the value and boundaries without getting flame wars. Government will rarely dissolve itself.

by Jasper on Mar 22, 2011 2:28 pm • linkreport

The Census computes the population for every block. Tracts are a higher level unit which they use to report demographic information and which make it easier to make maps like this. But for actual district drawing, there are population numbers for every individual block.

It's better to use whole tracts and makes it a lot easier to compute demographic statistics for a ward, but that's not always what happens.

by David Alpert on Mar 22, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport

Lance: You can use this page to familiarize yourself with the various levels of geography that the census uses to compile and disseminate data.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 22, 2011 2:32 pm • linkreport

ANCs would be wise to consider aligning their geographies as closely to Census tracts as they can, however. If they like getting data on their ANCs and SMDs, they would be wise to remember that much of that data only goes to the tract level - if that.

There's no excuse for the larger ward redistricting process to split census tracts.

by Alex B. on Mar 22, 2011 2:34 pm • linkreport

Also before anyone gets confused Census blocks are not actually the same as city blocks.

From the Census Bureau:
Blocks (Census Blocks) are statistical areas bounded by visible features, such as streets, roads, streams, and railroad tracks, and by nonvisible boundaries, such as selected property lines and city, township, school district, and county limits and short line-of-sight extensions of streets and roads. Generally, census blocks are small in area; for example, a block in a city bounded on all sides by streets. Census blocks insuburban and rural areas may be large, irregular, and bounded by a variety of features, such as roads,streams, and transmission lines. In remote areas, census blocks may encompass hundreds of square miles. Census blocks cover the entire territory of the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Island Areas. Census blocks nest within all other tabulated census geographic entities and are the basis for all tabulated data.

by Kate on Mar 22, 2011 3:12 pm • linkreport

I want to clarify what I meant by Junior Varsity.

I don't think being a Commissioner should be any kind of prerequisite for running for office, nor do I think that the role of the ANCs is any less serious than the role that the Council, Judiciary, or Executive Branch plays. I think it is entirely reasonable for an individual to set their sights on being an ANC Commissioner and not have any desire for higher office.

However, I think the ANCs and ANC Commissioners are often the most active and well-informed members of a community and I think it would be helpful for our city as a whole to invest in their professionalism in recognition that in all likelihood these are the folks who will play a role in shaping the Council through the election process or will seek election to higher office.

I thought the analogy to a Junior Varsity team was apt because the more investment the school makes in all of its squads, the deeper the bench ultimately becomes.

With regard to public participation at ANC meetings

Again, based on my experience, I think Lance makes an excellent point about participation by the broader community. Rules of Order become critical to managing a meeting when you have a large number of members on a Commission. By necessity, you need to move away from the Town Hall format. My answer to this (which was rejected by my colleagues) was to establish committees of residents to make formal recommendations on specific issues that the Commission could then vote up or down. The danger is when that Committee takes on a life of its own and no longer relies upon the authority or guidance of the ANC.

by Phil Lepanto on Mar 22, 2011 4:22 pm • linkreport

I said:Government will rarely dissolve itself.

Phil Lepanto said less than two hours later: My answer to this (which was rejected by my colleagues) was to establish committees of residents to make formal recommendations on specific issues that the Commission could then vote up or down.

QED.

by Jasper on Mar 22, 2011 4:39 pm • linkreport

@Lance
Mark B here.
On what basis do you claim that residents of Kalorama provide their elected ANCs with more input than those in your current 2B area?
Having a clear window into both, I frankly doubt your assertion. :)

by Mark on Mar 22, 2011 10:42 pm • linkreport

@Mark, I also have a clear window into both. The residents in 2B barely get a minute after the commissioners have discussed the matter to give their view points. It's not in a townhall meeting format. It's a meeting of the commissioners where the residents get to look in and observe.

The residents in 2D actually discussed the matter at length between themselves and the commissioners before a concensus was arrived at by the group as a whole and the commissioners voted based on what they'd heard. The residents had ultimate input. At least that's how it worked when I chaired 2D. I can't say if it's still the same. It's a shame if it isn't.

by Lance on Mar 23, 2011 12:08 am • linkreport

Lance: Are you advocating pure democracy then, instead of representative democracy, as a model for the ANCs to follow? That's noble, but I doubt it's truly workable.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 23, 2011 12:12 am • linkreport

Geoffrey, It's still representative democracy given that the final votes are those of the ANC representative and given that only a small (hopefully) representative fraction of the neighborhood residents actually attend the meetings (in any ANC).

What I'm advocating is that the commissioners finalize their decisions at the meetings based on what they're hearing from residents at the meeting AND ... and MOT based on what they're hearing from the other commissioners there alone.

It's a given that for many issues they'll have gotten resident input before they ever get to the meeting. But, it's also a given that there's a reason that actions must be noticed 7 days in advance and that resolutions can only be made at these properly noticed meetings. ... The one place the commissioners have the opportunity to get the best pulse of those most affected by a decision, is at a properly noticed ANC meeting where residents can in an organized and predictable manner make their views known.

Making the residents into observers at the meeting rather than participants in the entire process nullifies the whole intent of 'proper notice' and 'resolutions only being made at properly noticed meetings.' The commissioners may as well have closed meetings with minutes for the residents to read if the residents are full participants in the meeting.

by Lance on Mar 23, 2011 12:39 am • linkreport

*if the residents are NOT full participants in the meeting.

by Lance on Mar 23, 2011 12:40 am • linkreport

Lance and Geoff:
It's my experience that good ANC commissioners will spend many hours outside of meetings speaking with citizens and other stakeholders in an effort to develop knowledge and reach an informed opinion *prior* to attending a meeting where a vote is held. Of course presentations and testimony given at meetings are important and must be considered, but I haven't seen many times that an informed commissioner will base their decisions purely on who happens to show up at any given meeting or what is said there.
There is something to be said for such preparation. I understand that 2B used to meet twice a month, because the meetings regularly ran so long that not all business could be attended to in a single meeting. Even in my time on that commission there were occasions where the meetings ran past 11 PM.
IMO that is not only inefficient, it had the effect of placing an undue and unnecessary burden on the public, and disenfranchising those who cannot stay so late.
In the end, there are many ways to run an ANC, and I suppose there are advantages and disadvantages inherent in each of them. Perhaps we will agree to disagree.

by Mark B on Mar 23, 2011 11:12 am • linkreport

@ Lance: Geoffrey, It's still representative democracy given that the final votes are those of the ANC representative and given that only a small (hopefully) representative fraction of the neighborhood residents actually attend the meetings (in any ANC).

I doubt that last assumption is ever the case. The people that show up at these meetings are stakeholders. Not the general public. The general public is usually busy taking care of their lives. And that is exactly why this kind microdemocracy is useless.

by Jasper on Mar 23, 2011 12:14 pm • linkreport

ANCs are no more powerful nor effective than your average student council.

They attract some good citizens, but just as many power-hungry busybodies with too much time on their hands.

They systematically discourage community engagement by families with young children (6pm Tues night meetings? really?) while providing a soap box for every wacko in town who wants to speak out against every last development proposal on "behalf" of their neighborhood.

They perpetuate old-school DC power networks and promote black-white, young-old divisiveness while discouraging community building that is inter-generational, cross-cultural, and in the best interest of ALL residents.

Scrap the whole system and increase the size of the Council to diversify the power base and give more folks a seat at the table - the table where the real decision making occurs. Please.

by BeltwayInsider on Mar 23, 2011 12:22 pm • linkreport

BeltwayInsider -- I still think you can have effective models for involvement, civic engagement, and participation at the neighborhood-subward level.

But the post of mine that I cited above also discusses what you suggest, a doubling of the City Council. I am a little worried about it, because the current council hasn't demonstrated they are capable of good govt. at the current size.

I proposed two councilmembers for each ward, plus 8 at large. I would probably drop the salary to about $75,000 if you want to make it "full time" and it would be less if you would designate the job as "part time."

The other thing would be to consider doing boroughs with real power, and dropping the ANCs, like say in Montreal.

Frankly, for me, that would be preferable to having a 24 person City Council, which scares the hell out of me...

by Richard Layman on Mar 23, 2011 5:34 pm • linkreport

@ BeltwayInsider: +1

Make the Council a full time function, keep the pay where it is. Get rid of the ANC, and a lot more at-large chairs that are voted for proportionally. That way, independents and republicans, greens and others have a chance as well. That will do a lot more for democracy that those silly undemocratic ANCs.

by Jasper on Mar 23, 2011 8:48 pm • linkreport

@Mark B 'It's my experience that good ANC commissioners will spend many hours outside of meetings speaking with citizens and other stakeholders in an effort to develop knowledge and reach an informed opinion *prior* to attending a meeting where a vote is held.

I agree, not all interested stakeholders will (or can) be contacted ahead of time. That's why the law provides for public notice for a public meeting. This ensures that everyone who might be a stakeholder (and not just the stakeholders known to the Commissioners) gets a chance to discuss the matter at the public meeting. The way things are currently conducted that doesn't happen. The commissioners meet beforehand with the stakeholders they know of and make a decision based on that private meeting and then ask a few more questions at the public meeting and essentially make a decision. The other stakeholders, the ones which the noticing law is meant to protect, essentially get shut out of the process ... being given nothing more than a minute or two at the end of the discussion to make a comment.

As for their being a lack of time, the Commission is to blame for that. The ANC is supposed to be 'advising' on matters that are coming before the District and federal goverments for matters that are happening in their ANC area. Period. They're not supposed to be taking the commission's (and the public's) time to comment on issues affecting other neighborhoods (I remember a Mark B commissioner taking time to comment on a boathouse being built on NPS land in Georgetown ... might that have been you?) or on matters involving child bullying (again, all due respects to Jack J, but this isn't within the responsibilities given ANCS ... it's the Council's responsibility), planning parties in Dupont Circle ... the list goes on and on. If the Commissioners resisted the temptation to turn the meetings into an opportunity for them to vet their opinions on matters occuring around the District and instead concentrated on advising on matters currently before a District of federal board or agency, they'd have plenty of time to let the public participate (vs. merely observe) what is supposed to be a public meeting. Just my two cents ...

by Lance on Mar 23, 2011 11:06 pm • linkreport

@Jasper I doubt that last assumption is ever the case. The people that show up at these meetings are stakeholders. Not the general public.

We're in violent agreement here. That's the way it's supposed to be ... a small representative fraction of the stakeholders ... Yes, it's self-selective. But do you rather have the representative stakeholder be hand picked by the commissioners? That's what's happening now when you have this going on when as Mark B says 'It's my experience that good ANC commissioners will spend many hours outside of meetings speaking with citizens and other stakeholders in an effort to develop knowledge and reach an informed opinion *prior* to attending a meeting where a vote is held.

by Lance on Mar 23, 2011 11:16 pm • linkreport

@ Lance: We're in violent agreement here.

Huh? What? Impossible.

That's the way it's supposed to be ... a small representative fraction of the stakeholders ...

No, it's not. Democracy is supposed to represent the opinion of all the people, not just the stakeholders. In other words: the fact that one is not a stakeholder does not disqualify the opinion of the non-stakeholder. However, the opinion of the stakeholder generally does not represent the general opinion. Furthermore, stakeholders are usually a very small minority.

Yes, it's self-selective.

And that's a problem.

Simple example. Nobody wants to live next to a jail. Wherever you put a jail, the neighbors will stand up as stakeholders and try to block the presence of the jail. Everybody however wants that there is a jail. In fact, most people (everybody except the immediate neighbors) don't even care where the jail is located - as long as it's not near them. However, if you listen to just the self-selecting neighbors, then you can never build a jail - even though a large, large majority of the people (everybody except criminals) want a jail.

But do you rather have the representative stakeholder be hand picked by the commissioners?

No. I don't want there to be commissioners.

I want the City Council to deal with these things. The City Council can appropriately way the importance of the need for a jail versus the desire of a few not to live next to a jail. A City Council will conclude there is a need for a team, and decide which neighbors will have to take one for the team. Hopefully, the City Council will spread around the pain appropriately, and plan the next issue that sparks NIMBYism somewhere else. This way, the pain gets spread appropriately and everyone stays happy.

by Jasper on Mar 24, 2011 11:04 am • linkreport

@Lance
Guilty as Charged and I make no apologies for it!
The C&O Canal Path is not part of Georgetown. It's a national park that extends from Georgetown 180 miles to Cumberland at the West Virginia/Pennsylvania border.
I won't apologize for using what bully-pulpit an ANC has in an effort to defend a national asset from being privatized. Which it wasn't, thankfully. I'd expect similar generalized public outrage if any private entity in Dupont Circle area tried to lay exclusive claim to The Circle.

And, hey, at least I was forthright enough about the matter to get it on the ANC agenda, notify GU and 2E, and not allow unending repetitive debate before we took our vote (to oppose). :)

Also, the only way to keep a meeting running on-schedule is to time the agenda items, including the discussion and comment periods. This is a practice 2B instituted when I was on the commission.

by Mark B on Mar 24, 2011 11:35 am • linkreport

@Jasper No, it's not. Democracy is supposed to represent the opinion of all the people, not just the stakeholders.

That's a common misconception. Democracy isn't a blank check for the 'majority' to impose its will on the community as a whole. The crux of a democracy isn't the majority rule aspect but instead the fact that it incorporates safeguards to protect minority interests. The fact that it's the stakeholders in an issue (or at least a representative fraction of those stakeholders) is the way it's supposed to be in a democracy simply because those who will be effected by a decision are those who need to be able to comment on it. Those who aren't stakeholders in an issue won't show up because they don't have a stake in the issue. I'm not sure I'm explaining myself right ... but the bottom line I'm trying to get across is that at an ANC meeting (or any meeting) where several issues are being involved, democracy has been served if those people with the greatest stake in the outcome are represented. It doesn't matter if those who have no stake in the outcome aren't there and able to discuss the issue. They have no interest in its final resolution.

by Lance on Mar 25, 2011 12:29 am • linkreport

@Mark Also, the only way to keep a meeting running on-schedule is to time the agenda items, including the discussion and comment periods. This is a practice 2B instituted when I was on the commission.

I agree with you on this point. I just think they have it backwards about who should be speaking discussing the matter. It should be first those presenting (as is already done) followed by the public asking questions of the presenters, and then if there is enough time left a period set aside for the commissioners to ask any final questions before taking a vote. As you said, the commissioners are already well informed of the issue before it ever comes to the meeting. The purpose of this publically noticed meeting is supposed to be for the public to have the opportunity to be equally well informed and, most importantly, allowed to voice their opinions to the commissioners who get to vote so that when the commissioner do vote, their votes represent more than their private opinions and those of the stakeholders who sought them out prior to the meeting. Those would be closed meetings occuring beforehand with the open ANC meeting for the public just being used to rubber stamp these closed meetings. That's a sham.

by Lance on Mar 25, 2011 12:40 am • linkreport

@ Lance
Ah. I see.
Allow me to suggest that the questions asked by the commissioners (who if those commissioners are good presumably will have done their homework) are likely to be more informed and succinct questions, and therefor likely to shed more light on the matter in a shorter period of time.
I think an ANC meeting is a place to inform the community, but just as or more importantly it is a place where necessary business must be conducted. Given many commissions' need to balance a full docket with very real time and space constraints, there is often no time to delve into the details of every issue in the meetings themselves.
It behooves everyone to do their work outside of the meetings and come to them prepared!

by mark b on Mar 25, 2011 9:45 am • linkreport

"It behooves everyone to do their work outside of the meetings and come to them prepared! "

Certainly true, but that's not how my ANC (3D) seems to work. The agenda is typically posted 2 weeks before the meeting. There is rarely any additional information about the items posted until shortly before, if not after, the meeting. Putting aside the absence of solicitation on the issues by ANC Commisssioners (at least mine) or a meaningful opportunity to review whatever it is under consideration, it is often only at the meeting itself where a citizen or stakeholder may learn enough to comment or opine intelligently on a given issue.

My distinct impression is that most issues the outcome is precooked and the deliberation is an opportunity for commissioners to give a nod to seeking public input, perhaps sometimes swaying their previously determined views, and an opportunity for each to go on record (if they want) as to their vote (for or against).

by ah on Mar 25, 2011 10:02 am • linkreport

In my ANC (1D), the meeting notices do not include an agenda. The Commissioners are in the process of launching a new website that will show resolutions submitted for consideration, but residents served by the ANC can only guess what will be considered at any given meeting... and it has been the practice of one Commissioner to submit new resolutions for consideration with only 15 minutes before the start of the meeting.

I believe public participation is critical. But, I also believe that limiting public participation to simply questions or comments during public meetings does not rise to the level of 'participation'. It's really just the same as being part of Jerry Springer's studio audience.

Finally, I really want to make sure that I'm on the record on this post as saying that ANCs need to cover more territory and residents than they currently do.

by Phil Lepanto on Mar 25, 2011 10:41 am • linkreport

@ah Putting aside the absence of solicitation on the issues by ANC Commisssioners (at least mine) or a meaningful opportunity to review whatever it is under consideration, it is often only at the meeting itself where a citizen or stakeholder may learn enough to comment or opine intelligently on a given issue.

That's exactly the point I am trying to get across.

Additionally, whether the following is true or not, it IS the perception that is left with the public given how the meetings are currently conducted ...

most issues the outcome is precooked and the deliberation is an opportunity for commissioners to give a nod to seeking public input,

The Council comes across looking as Politburo where issues have been discussed and decided beforehand ... and the 'public input' at the noticed meeting is simply to give these predetermined decisions legitemacy.

And when the public DOES get an opportunity to ask questions, if they're hard hitting questions, they don't really get answered.

For example, ANC2B recently worked hard with Hanks to allow it to expand a patio that is immediately beside and directly across a narrow street from residences. We heard over and over from the ANC 'this is an urban area, people have to expect noise'. Now we have a similar situation going on with Policy at 14th and T who have asked for a patio on T Street (as well as a much smaller one on 14th). The difference between this location and Hanks is that there are NO immediately adjacent residences. Across the (narrow) street from it (on T) is Room and Board, and beside it is a long closed post office that is now not even occupied. HOWEVER, there is a commissioner who lives on that street. And because he was entrusted by the commission with voicing the commission's views on the proposal, the commission's proposal was a direct 180 from its position on Hanks. So, here we have a situation that is much more appropriate for an outside patio than at Hank's (i.e., less of a chance to bother residents) but you have a 180 degree difference in'policy' by the ANC ... Interesting. When the public was given their 1/2 minute to ask questions, I asked the commissioner to explain why the difference in treatment? No direct answer was given. Instead I received an answer to a question I hadn't asked. It was explained to me why he hadn't expect Policy to ask for this patio given it hadn't been brought up to him when they first opened several years ago. Interesting ... but not a response to my question. Then he called on his partner sitting in the audience who identified himself as a concerned neighbor (but did NOT indentify himself as the commissioner's partner) who voiced many concerns about the noise this patio half a block down the street from his residence could cause. I really felt like we the public were being shammed in this instance. ANC wasn't excecising any consistent policy in regards to these outside patios ... other than a policy which allows the individual commissioners to look out for their own personal interests within their districts. That's banana-republic politics.

by Lance on Mar 25, 2011 5:12 pm • linkreport

*The Commission comes across looking

by Lance on Mar 25, 2011 5:14 pm • linkreport

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