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ANC reform moves ahead

(Published November 29, 1999)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

The comprehensive Advisory Neighborhood Commission reform bill had its first public hearing before the council Nov. 24 to mixed reviews from ANC commissioners. But reforms will be moving forward starting at the beginning of December and council action could come as early as January.

The two major provisions of the bill -- one that would create an independent Office of the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions to assist ANCs with technical and financial help, and another that would strengthen the ANCs’ influence with some city agencies -- were the most hotly debated issues.

"I would be delusional if I thought everything we did would be received with universal glee," said Councilman David Catania, R-At large, the reform effort leader. "But the bill was by and large very, very well received by the commissioners."

The bill was a result of Catania’s oversight hearings on the ANCs conducted last spring. Many of the proposed changes came from commissioners’ comments made in those hearings and from surveys sent to every commissioner in the city.

Catania has proposed strengthening the standard of "great weight" that city agencies are supposed to afford ANCs when ruling on matters that affect a commission’s neighborhood. Commissioners have for years complained that agencies like the Alcohol Beverage Control Board and the Zoning Commission ignore the ANCs’ wishes.

Commissioner Joseph Hairston, who represents single-member district 4A03, said at the hearing that the reason there are so many vacant commission seats in the city is because the perception is that ANCs don’t matter.

"Make it something, and you’ll have people fill the vacancies," he said.

Councilmen Phil Mendelson, D-At large, and Jim Graham, D-Ward 1, expressed concern that the new standard could tie up agencies in litigation if people use the ANCs’ procedures as a source of appeals. Mendelson said ANCs could end up in court defending their decisions in appeals cases if their decisions are given greater weight.

Catania said he is planning to rewrite the legislation to make the higher standard applicable only to independent agencies and boards in the city government like the ABC board, the Redevelopment Land Agency and the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Some commissioners who testified at the committee hearing also appeared to be unclear as to the role of the proposed Office of the ANCs. Some commissioners objected to the office, saying the elected bodies shouldn’t have an agency supervising their actions.

"The Office of the ANCs is to be a supportive role," Catania said. "It’s not intended to direct the ANCs -- it’s intended to assist them."

The bill also provides for training for commissioners to help them learn their financial reporting responsibilities.

"If we expect little from us, then we’ll get little," said Commissioner David J. Bardin of single-member district 3F04. "If we expect more, we’ll need the tools and training to get the job done."

Catania, a former ANC commissioner from Kalorama-Sheridan, said he is trying to get the legislation in effect before negotiations begin for the next budget so the reforms will be in place before the next fiscal year starts.

"I’m excited to see where the movement goes once it gets its breath and heads off into its next generation," Catania said.

The bill is scheduled to be marked up Dec. 2 and will move to the full council Dec. 7 for a first reading. A second reading could come as soon as January after which it would move for a vote by the council.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator