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Councilman to hold hearings to fix ANCs

(Published March 8, 1999)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

After years of helplessness, hopelessness, neglect and disrespect, elected neighborhood government in the District is finally getting some attention. D.C. Councilman David Catania, R-At large, has made it his calling to administer some loving discipline to a rag-tag collection of folks who have been as likely to be ignored as to be confused with the African National Con-gress.

The District’s 37 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions were called before a city council committee last month to show how they were complying with D.C. law as part of one councilman’s effort to get them all functioning properly again.

Catania, chairman of the council’s committee on local and regional affairs, scheduled four evening sessions to quiz ANC chairmen and treasurers about their duties and responsibilities to their communities.

"The reason for the hearing was to see which of the ANCs are meeting the requirements of the law," said Catania, a former ANC commissioner. The ANCs had to fill out a five-page questionnaire on subjects ranging from the number of meetings the ANC held last year to questions about their by-laws, annual reports and finances.

Catania repeatedly reminded commissioners that the purpose of the oversight hearings was not to punish the ANCs but to help them get back on track.

The councilman said there are as many as 10 commissions in the District that have serious problems in complying with D.C. law.

"There are two factors that cause ANCs to get into trouble," Catania said. "One is a lack of understanding of exactly what the requirements for an ANC are. The other is a lack of resources to assist them once they are in trouble."

Catania told the ANCs that he will put his committee’s staff at their disposal to help them get back into compliance so they can continue to get funding from the city government.

"After we take care of some triage, we will look at improving the ANC law," Catania said. In particular, he said he would like to change the definition of "great weight," which is the consideration city agencies are supposed to give ANC opinions in matters that affect their neighborhoods. Catania called the current standard "inadequate" and said he wants to change it to prohibit city agencies from dismissing an ANC’s opinion unless the commission made factual or legal errors.

"As ‘great weight’ is presently defined, it does not give the kind of deference to the ANCs that they deserve," he said.

Catania’s committee also held a training session for ANC commissioners Feb. 27 after the oversight hearings were complete to brief commissioners on such matters as how to fill out quarterly reports and what their responsibilities are under D.C. law.

"I am extremely encouraged by the quality and caliber of many of the newly elected commissioners," Catania said after the hearings were complete.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator