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ANC reform bill wins vote

(Published January 17, 2000)


Staff Writer

A comprehensive bill that would reform the way Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in the city do business is on the way to a full council vote, which could come as early as next month.

The bill, which was introduced by Councilman David Catania, R-At large, was passed Jan. 11 by a 4-1 vote by his Committee on Local and Regional Affairs. Only Councilman Phil Mendelson, D-At large, voted against it.

The wide-ranging bill would help ensure the ANCs are more financially accountable, provide means for keeping commissions functioning and establish a new Office of the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions to provide them with technical and administrative support.

A controversial provision in the bill would strengthen the power ANCs have with city agencies and boards and commissions. The commissions’ opinions currently are afforded "great weight" from the boards and agencies they testify before. That standard was so loosely written in the legislation establishing the ANCs that commissioners have complained for years that their opinions and the wishes of neighborhood residents are often ignored by the agencies.

Catania’s legislation would raise the bar for agencies that try to override a commission’s recommendations. Agencies and boards would now be presumed to agree with the ANCs’ recommendations unless they were found to be capricious, arbitrary, contrary to low of if the mayor determined the interests of the city required a recommendation to be overridden. In these cases, the agency or board could override the ANC with a simple majority vote.

Certain boards and agencies were given power in the legislation to override an ANC by a two-thirds majority vote, even if the ANC’s recommendation was sound. Those boards and agencies are the Historic Preservation Review Board, the Redevelopment Land Agency, the Zoning Commission, the Board of Zoning Adjustment, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and the National Capital Planning Commission.

Catania tweaked the bill after its first hearing Nov. 22 to clear up some language concerning the intent of the Office of the ANCs. Commissioners at that hearing had expressed concern that the office was to have a supervisory role over the commissions. Catania stressed that the office was intended only to assist the commissions, not direct them. Catania’s committee also reworked the provisions that increase the commissions’ influence to try to clarify the circumstances when an agency can override the commissions’ recommendations.

The full bill could come up for a first reading before the full council as early as Feb. 1. Catania has said he wants the reforms in place before the next general election, at which all of the city’s 299 ANC seats will be up for election.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator