Petworth News March 13, 2015 at 12:44PM

Do you think ANC 4C should change how they run their meetings? Former ANC 4C Commissioner Zach Hartman asked me to share his thoughts on ANC 4C, with the hope that it will provoke thoughtful discussion among residents AND commissioners (see his article below).

I'll add my two cents prior to his message, and say that I've previously gone on record saying that the ANC 4C meeting is run pretty efficiently, but the format and tone prevents community input that I believe commissioners should be soliciting in order to be effective representatives of their constituents and neighbors. One solution offered by a current ANC 4C commissioner was that commissioners should have regular SMD meetings to present ideas to -- and listen to -- their constituents. I don't believe those meetings are currently happening.

The Community Comments period during the mid-point of the meeting provides 2 minutes per person to speak on topics, but it does not enable residents to weigh in on matters that directly affect them, as most of those important issues are presented AFTER that comment section and residents are not allowed to ask questions.

From my experience, ANC 4D follows a more open process that allows for both commissioner and community questions and input during presentations. I think it's a better format, even if it is a bit chaotic. It feels like a discussion, not a spectator event.

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments at the bottom.

With that, here is Zach's open letter to the community and to ANC 4C : . . "Soft Tyranny in ANC 4C…"

by Zachary Hartman

Not really, but seriously – there is a problem. Let me begin by saying that, as someone who served as an officer on the ANC for three years, I am grateful for every single one of our neighbors that chooses to serve. The ANC is a thankless job, it pays terrible (that is a joke, ANC commissioners don’t get paid), and hardly anyone knows who you are or what you do unless they have a problem with their neighbors or the city government. So a resounding - Thank You - to all of our volunteer officials, whose sincerity and commitment to make our community a better place to live cannot be questioned.

Let’s be clear, running an ANC meeting is a difficult job. I have done it, so I know. There is a limited amount of time and an amazing cast of neighbors and characters who like to use the ANC meetings as a soapbox for whatever their issue de jour seems to be. Staying on topic and moving through the agenda is challenging to say the least.

During the ANC 4C March community meeting, admittedly the first of which I have been able to attend since stepping down from the ANC, I was impressed at the level of professionalism and order with which the meeting proceeded. Discussions focused on topic and the meeting proceeded expeditiously. Furthermore, they were judicious in their adherence to procedural order which is always a challenge for ANCs. All steps in the right direction.

At the same time, there was one change to the meeting in particular that greatly offended me and any sense of a community driven process – the elimination of community views regarding issues on which the commission is voting. It seems as though the commission, or its leadership, has opted to cut out the opportunity for neighbors to speak up on agenda items that will be voted on for the sake of expediency.

Chairman Galloway defended this practice with two arguments during the meeting: 1) The meeting is not for the community, it is for the commission and we – the body politic – are spectators to the process, and 2) There is no way to conduct all of the business if residents, or their designee, are allowed to share their opinions on issues directly affecting them. This may not be Chairman Galloway's personal opinion and just a commission policy, but with all due respect that is total hogwash. I was informed that the January meeting, which I did not attend, included a robust discussion of the Pepco-Exelon merger, where viewpoints on both sides were considered and heard in a very professional and efficient format - so it can be done.

When I served on the commission, I seldom heard an opinion on public policy with which I fully agreed. However, it was the responsibility of the commission to represent the diversity of views within the community, so I fought rigorously for a free and open debate. There were many issues that came before the ANC that would have been decided differently had neighbors not stood up and let their voices be heard, and rightfully so. How can commissioners possibly make informed decisions and be held accountable in the court of public opinion if they and the community are only hearing one side of the story? They can’t!

Last night the commission voted on several very consequential issues that will have significant impact on financial investments and property rights. The community received presentations from the advocates of the proposed actions, fielded questions, and yet those wishing to express counterarguments were told that it was not the forum for dissenting opinions. One gentleman was denied the opportunity to speak on his issue. If it were not for Commissioner Standish insisting on hearing the gentleman’s views, he never would have had the opportunity to share his views in the public forum prior to the second vote as well.

If you don’t think this is important, just wait until you show up for an ANC meeting to find that someone in your community is seeking the commission's support for an idea with which you disagree. The ANC will hear one side of the story and then vote, while you are forced to “spectate” as the commission lends its support to an issue or policy after only hearing one side of the story.

Shutting out all public debate is a lazy way to address the challenges associated with running a public meeting – Period. Furthermore, the idea that the commission should be able to pick and choose which views are worthy of inclusion in any given debate is unconscionable. It is unacceptable for our community to accept the idea that this is the only way in which the commission can conduct business in an efficient manner. I have no problem with the commission limiting debate to germane views from those who are directly impacted, but if the leadership of the commission is incapable of that, perhaps they should step aside and let other commissioners lead that have a better track record of openness and inclusiveness of ideas.

This is a problem that can easily be remedied, and I encourage the commission to reexamine this policy and for the community to speak out.

** Zachary Hartman was ANC 4C-09 commissioner from 2010-2013. During that time he served as Secretary and later Vice-Chairman. He also serves on the board of the Friends of the Soldier's Home organization **

from Petworth News at

Drew Schneider

Local DC blogger in Petworth, Washington DC.

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