The Fenty Town Meeting last week may have been little more than a feel-good session without much real consequence, but I think it was useful in at least one respect: It revealed that when it comes to real issues that affect our daily lives, there is a huge amount of common ground and very little disagreement among community residents. I shared a table with Barbara Curtis and Mary Sutherland--both strong allies of Leroy Thorpe--and the discussion was friendly, respectful, and quite free of the tensions that have distorted so many recent public meetings in our neighborhood.
This got me thinking: If we can have a real conversation in that kind of setting, why do the other meetings have to be so contentious and hostile? In this same vein, In Shaw has an interesting post contrasting the divisions within our community and the atmosphere in ANC2C meetings with the situation just the other side of New Jersey Avenue. Her conclusion: It's the leadership. I think that applies to my first question as well.
The only real issue in the recent election was Mr. Thorpe. All of the ANC2C races--not just his own--were really about him. He has set the tone for the ANC meetings and has completely dominated the proceedings, instructing his allies on the commission exactly what to do and browbeating anyone who expresses the least criticism. Now he has lost his seat, but is still doing his utmost to make sure that everything still revolves around him.
In case anyone hasn't been paying attention, let's review what happened last week:
First, Mr. Thorpe was so keen to be president of something that he was willing to stomp all over one of his supporters, Mrs. Betty Newell, to set himself up as president of the East Central Civic Association in a bogus election. This "election" was not on the published meeting agenda and no notice of any election had been distributed to members; the president of the ECCA (Mrs. Newell) was taken totally unawares; Mr. Thorpe was speaking as ANC Chairman when it occurred and had no standing within ECCA to call any election--much less preside over one; no one could produce the by-laws governing elections; there was no call for other nominations; there was no certified count; only the presidency came up for vote--there was no mention of the other offices which should also have been voted upon in any real election. The astounding thing was that the officers of the ECCA did not make a peep to prevent this travesty. If they won't defend the integrity of the organization, then maybe it's time to let Mr. Thorpe preside over its empty shell.
The next step was at the ANC meeting on Dec. 6, where Mr. Thorpe rammed through a grant request to buy laptop computers for the same ECCA that he had just taken over two days previously. Never mind that there is documentation that the ECCA received an ANC grant less than two years ago to buy 4 desktop computers and also received two laptops from a private donor. Never mind that no one could account for those computers. Never mind that the ECCA has no website or e-mail address and was unable to show what use had been made of the computers already received. Never mind that Mr. Thorpe had been daintily admonished by the DC Auditor in 2005 for filling out and signing ANC grant requests himself (lest "there be an appearance of impropriety.)" This time there wasn't just an "appearance of impropriety"; this was the genuine article.
The icing on the cake arrived when, as expected, he resigned the ANC chair and used his 3 votes to name Doris Brooks as chairperson and treasurer and Barbara Curtis as vice-chairperson and secretary. This move takes advantage of the rule that if an ANC cannot elect a new chairperson, then the one from the previous term continues in that position. The calculation here is that the votes of Mssrs. Padro and Chapple will be cancelled out by those of Mmes Brooks and Curtis, thus assuring deadlock. But it gets better. Ms. Brooks then named Mr. Thorpe to be both her "parliamentarian" and executive assistant and to use Mr. Thorpe's phone number as the official phone number of ANC2C. The expectation plainly is that the "parliamentarian" will control the meeting agenda and settle any question in favor of Guess Who, while remaining at the table to continue giving stage directions to Ms. Brooks and Ms. Curtis. Laugh or cry about it, you gotta admit the man has a pair.
What motivates all this is for someone else to figure out, but I think it shows contempt for both the residents of this ANC and for the democratic system. Mr. Thorpe always vociferiously denies that he's a politician, which of course is nonsense because he's a very talented one--though he may have overreached a bit this time. The question is whether he's going to use his undeniable gifts to help bring this community together or if he's going to continue roiling the waters and exploiting the underlying suspicions held by so many people. It doesn't have to be that way. He has done a lot of good in the past to make the community a safer place, and he could do a lot of good in the future if he wants to. If only he could acknowledge that his isn't the only voice that counts.
Blogger's note: Up through the election, I've tried to keep my posts as objective and factual as I could and refrain from editorializing or criticizing any candidate (though obviously other commenters have not been so restrained). However, I think these particular actions are so shameless that they demand commentary.