Saturday, April 07, 2007

Open Letter to Jack Evans, David Catania, and Phil Mendelson

I sent the following letter to Council members Evans, Catania, and Mendelson:

Dear Councilmember:

I am writing to you because ANC2C has completely broken down and clearly requires some outside intervention if it is to become even minimally functional. What we are seeing is a pattern of petty vindictiveness and indifference to the interests of the community that has left citizens frustrated and angry and brought the business of the ANC to a standstill.

As you may know, the April 4 ANC meeting was abruptly cancelled by Chairperson Doris Brooks after several residents refused to accept her unilateral prohibition of videotaping the meeting. Ms. Brooks asserted that the United House of Prayer did not permit camera or video recording even though permission to record there had been obtained in advance of the meeting. In the end, a representative of the church (of which Ms. Brooks is a prominent member) deferred to her demand. Ms. Brooks had changed the venue of the meeting from its normal location at Africare (specifically voted upon at the January ANC meeting). No reason for the change was provided, but it may well have been because Africare would not prohibit recording of the meetings there.

Neither Ms. Brooks nor her executive assistant and parliamentarian, Leroy Thorpe, has provided any reason for prohibiting video or audio recording of the meetings, which is clearly permissible in what should be an open, public meeting. Their repeated efforts to prohibit recording are a carry-over from Mr. Thorpe’s tenure as Chairman, when he would confront anyone who attempted to do so. Since last year’s election, several residents (I am not one of them) have decided to exercise this right despite such attempts at intimidation. There is an evident public interest in disseminating the recordings via the internet, since only a small percentage of residents are able to attend the meetings, and the ANC itself makes virtually no effort to make any record of its proceedings available to the public. Similarly, Ms. Brooks has refused to permit the creation of a website for the ANC (even at no cost), but has given no reason for her opposition.

The April cancellation followed on the heels of Ms. Brooks’ sudden cancellation of the March meeting. She has yet to give any public explanation for that, refusing to respond to inquiries as to the reason. I have heard unofficially that the reason was ostensibly because Commissioner Barbara Curtis was unable to attend because of a family emergency. Even if that were the case, this was not an adequate reason for cancelling the meeting since the other three members were apparently available and would have constituted a quorum.

Ms. Brooks has reportedly failed to file required ANC Security Fund forms and pay the participation fee, even though this had been authorized by a rare unanimous vote at the January meeting. Perhaps the problem is that before Mr. Thorpe left office, she was named both Chairperson and Treasurer, and the checks require two signatures. (Ms. Curtis was named to the other two statutory offices: Vice-Chairperson and Secretary.)

This, in turn, is part of a largely successful effort by Mr. Thorpe to subvert the results of the 2006 election and continue to run the ANC with Ms. Brooks as a figurehead. During the meetings, Ms. Brooks continually defers to Mr. Thorpe’s instructions, consults with him in whispers inaudible to others in the room, and frequently allows him to run the meetings and decide who is recognized to speak. She has made Mr. Thorpe’s personal telephone number the official number for the ANC. She treats commissioners Padro and Chapple in an abusive manner and consistently thwarts any initiative they make. If Ms. Curtis shows any sign of voting with them, Mr. Thorpe or Ms. Brooks directs her to change her vote. The conduct of the meetings makes a mockery of any accepted rules of order. But don’t take my word for it—watch the videos.

In an effort to try to overcome this impasse, Gottlieb Simon suggested an informal meeting among the four commissioners to discuss disagreements and grievances on March 28. Mr. Padro had another commitment, but the other three commissioners agreed to the meeting. Mr. Chapple and Ms. Curtis arrived for the meeting as scheduled, but Ms. Brooks never showed up. Unfortunately, this seems to be indicative of her lack of interest in making the ANC actually work.

There may be other ANCs in the city worse than this one, but I don’t know of any. I want to emphasize that the great preponderance of responsibility for this situation rests squarely with Mr. Thorpe and Ms. Brooks. Mr. Chapple, in particular, has made efforts to cooperate and find ways to resolve disputes, but his overtures have been repeatedly spurned. Without some willingness to compromise on the part of the Chairperson and her executive assistant, nothing will get accomplished. There is no intrinsic reason why power and responsibilities within this ANC couldn’t be shared, but their evident intention is to make sure that does not happen. So we remain at a hostile stalemate.

As I’m sure you know, Shaw is a neighborhood with serious problems and tensions. I am convinced that the vast majority of residents of this ANC want nothing more than to live in harmony with their neighbors and to work with each other and with District authorities to remedy the crime and neglect that continue to plague this area. But we need leaders who will work to overcome suspicions and tensions within the community, rather than exploit them for their own purposes. This is a seriously dysfunctional ANC that desperately needs an intervention from someone who will use his moral authority, influence, and oversight capabilities to talk some sense into its officers. I hope that you can step up and assume that role.


At 4/07/2007 1:03 PM, Anonymous martin moulton said...

If others send their own similar messages, consider using both email and the regular post (or fax) to give your message more weight.

Office of Councilmember Jack Evans
1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Room 106, Washington, DC 20004
(202) 724-8058 | (202) 724-8023 Fax

Office of Councilmember Phil Mendelson

1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 402?Washington, DC 20004
(202) 724-8064 | (202) 724-8099 Fax

Office of Councilmember David A. Catania
1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 110 ?Washington, DC 20004
(202) 724-7772 | (202) 724-8087 Fax

At 4/07/2007 1:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe a request to the department of justice is in order?

At 4/07/2007 3:03 PM, Anonymous Sam Farmer said...

Great letter. I will be sending something in this week.

At 4/08/2007 11:35 AM, Anonymous Gee said...

It is a great letter, thanks for this and all of your previous attempts to inject some sanity into an absurd situation.

I'd like to add one other thing, along the lines of a prior post. Jack Evans, through his staff, says there is nothing he can do about ANC misbehavior. Formally, that may be correct. But of course as we all know he has considerable political influence. What we need to convey to Jack (among others) is that we are fed up with Thorpe-ism, where one unelected person makes a dysfunctional travesty out of our ANC, a vital instrument of neighborhood self-government.

Every letter we send (and having been in a position to answer this stuff, I can tell you letters are more persuasive than e-mails) will help get this message across to Jack, even if he continues to protest he's powerless. And that will help redirect his considerable political clout in a direction that helps us instead of continuing to hurt us.

That's why you've inspired me to write in myself, and I encourage others to do the same.

Again, thank you, D5-0.

At 4/09/2007 7:20 AM, Blogger JMC39 said...

Great work - inspired to expand on my own letter to Evans.

Consider submitting this as written testimony for the official record of the April 19 ANC budget oversight hearing.

At 4/10/2007 7:29 PM, Anonymous said...

The history you've recounted in your letter is very helpful to me as a person who's new to this anc. Could you provide any further info as to when and how this video/no video conflict got started? I am also interested in knowing what has been done to resolve the conflict within the anc and here on the community level throughout that same period.
Thanks so much.

At 4/10/2007 8:20 PM, Blogger si said...

Jack Evans said he is going to try to meet with all 4 ANC 2C Commissioners & Gottlieb Simon this month.

At 4/11/2007 2:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why didn't the letter go to Chairman Vincent Gray and Councilmember Kwame Brown -- they are both At-Large, just like David Catania and Phil Mendelson.

At 4/16/2007 7:05 PM, Anonymous a said...

has anyone written to the washington post?

At 4/18/2007 1:06 PM, Blogger Martin said...

Any response to your letters? — or did they get circular filed? Is Jack going to come to the next ANC meeting?

At 4/18/2007 7:10 PM, Blogger DaddyFiveOh said...

Martin: I did get an answer from Jack Evans, who said he would try to schedule a meeting with the four elected commissioners and Gottlieb Simon. I also forwarded the letter to Vincent Gray, who replied that he would do what he can to be helpful. That's all I know.


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