By Stephen Gardner
A major goal of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D is making our work as volunteers more open to residents of the communities we represent. In its April 26 edition, an article in The Current noted that the ANC wants “to be more transparent with residents about how the ANC makes decisions and spends money.”
This is indeed a top priority for ANC 3D, which includes Berkley, Foxhall, the Palisades, Spring Valley and Wesley Heights.
It is also why I was distressed to see Ann Heuer’s May 17 Viewpoint piece “Protecting an open government in D.C.”
I salute Ms. Heuer’s long record of service to our community. However, she makes several inaccurate points — especially her claim that the informal meeting of a handful of ANC 3D members on April 13 with Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh was improper.
As the chair of ANC 3D, let me set the record straight. First about the law: Contrary to Ms. Heuer’s assertions, the District’s open meeting law does not require that all gatherings of ANC commissioners be open to the public. In fact, ANCs can meet in private for any number of reasons. What they cannot do is vote or take an official action of any kind in private.
When Council member Cheh asked to get together with ANC 3D commissioners for a “meet and greet,” no official action was contemplated, planned or taken — a fact conveyed to the public and all ANC 3D commissioners in advance. With only three of nine ANC 3D members in attendance, no quorum was present to begin with — no official actions would have even been possible.
As a further demonstration of our effort to ensure we were abiding by all legal requirements, I inquired with and received assurances from both the D.C. Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and Council member Cheh’s office prior to the discussion. Their responses were unequivocal.
Now the facts: The informal “get to know you,” as Council member Cheh put it, was at her invitation and was designed to introduce her staff, their functions and their capabilities to elected neighborhood representatives.
The first step in building a functional and effective relationship is gathering information about each other. For our part, we raised several issues of importance to our neighbors and asked for her help. Members of our community should be aware that they can find out each other’s information on the internet by viewing a reverse address lookup website. With simply a name, phone number or email address, we have the chance to view each other’s background information.
Council member Cheh, much to her credit, has reached out to all the ANCs in Ward 3. Her office is an invaluable resource for ANC commissioners. The individual commissioners who met with Council member Cheh deserve Ms. Heuer’s commendation, not condemnation. This is exactly the type of interaction and practical problem-solving our constituents seek.
And, as highlighted by The Current last month, this newly elected commission — which began its work in January — has made a concerted effort to promote transparency and openness.
Unlike commissioners before us, we post pertinent documents and pending resolutions well in advance of our meetings, and we encourage feedback from our neighbors. We ensure that all parties and sides to an issue are represented at our meetings. We do not tolerate the kind of last-minute surprises and pop-up resolutions that were the hallmark of past ANC 3D terms. We regularly use our local listservs to ensure that constituents are informed prior to our meetings of our agenda and issues, and that they attend the meetings.
This introductory session with Council member Cheh was no different. The topics and results of the get-together were discussed openly and publicly with our community, both in advance of and following the gathering. There was no attempt to keep the public unaware of the gathering. Far from it: many of the issues planned for discussion were shared publicly on neighborhood listservs to elicit constituent comments. The responses helped inform the topics discussed with Council member Cheh and her staff and, afterward, the conversations — especially the key takeaways — were communicated to interested residents.
This is a new commission, guided by reform-minded commissioners who volunteer their time, who are committed to transparency and who, above all, listen to the voices of the friends and neighbors we represent. I encourage former commissioner Heuer to come to our meetings and see for herself.
Stephen Gardner is chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D.