ANCs Part 2: What Do Commissioners Do?
Last week we looked at the function and role of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) in DC government (“What Exactly Do ANCs Do?”).
This week is a Q&A with four ANC commissioners from the three ANCs that serve the Dupont-Logan-U Street area; we asked each commissioner the same four questions.
The Q&A with these four commissioners is below the fold:
- Jack Jacobson, ANC 2B04, which is the single-member district (SMD) on the east side of ANC 2B-Dupont, running from 15th to 17th Streets.
- Peter Raia, ANC 1B02, which is an SMD on the south side of ANC 1B, which serves the U Street area and encompassing parts of both U and 14th Streets.
- Charles Reed, ANC 2F01, which is an SMD on the west side of ANC 2F-Logan, including part of the 14th Street corridor. Reed is also the chairman of ANC 2F.
- Mike Silverstein, ANC 2B06, which is an SMD on the south side of ANC 2B-Dupont, south of the Circle. He is also the chairman of ANC 2B.
Borderstan:What do you view as the most important part of an ANC commissioner’s job?
Jacobson, ANC 2B04: To me, the most important part of the position is ensuring that often bureaucratic city agencies understand the unique characteristics of the district and neighborhood I represent, and are responsive to the unique needs of that district and neighborhood. I also spend a great deal of time simply ensuring that lines of communication between neighbors, residents, businesses and the government remain open and positive–everyone deserves a seat at the table, but whether they take that seat or not is up to them; as a facilitator, it’s my duty to ensure that the seat is open to them and that they’re aware of the role they can play in shaping the neighborhood if they chose to do so.
Raia, ANC 1B02: in my opinion, the most important part of the job is listening to what the people want and need in my single member district. This includes residents and businesses. We all live and/or work here, so I like to see us all get the things we need to prosper and have a better day. At the end of the day, I want to make as many people as possible happy and proud of the area they decide to live or open up a business in.
Reed, ANC 2F01: All commissioners take an oath to act in the best interests of all the citizens of the District. In practice, our position most enables us to view things from the standpoint of the community in which we act, in my case, the Logan Circle area. At bottom, then, our job is to represent our community to the government in all its parts (and vice versa). This requires understanding the community, its problems, and making mature judgments about how best to advance those interests and solve those problems.
Silverstein, ANC 2B06: The most important job is dealing with process and paperwork, because if you miss a deadline for let something fall through the cracks, you no longer exist as a player in the regulatory process. And while I knew it was quite a caseload, I didn’t appreciate just how much paperwork and how many deadlines and appearances it all entailed. This is no minor matter, because if you miss your appearance before ABRA [Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration] or HPRB [Historic Preservation Review Board] or BZA [Board of Zoning Adjustment], then all the debate and study and work that goes into an issue is lost completely… along with your standing. The other important item is follow-up on projects and city services. This can be rat control, trash pick up, a water leak, or God only knows what. It can also be unfinished loose ends of a streetscape project, or getting multiple city agencies and contractors to know what the other hand is doing. You spend a lot of time fulfilling other peoples’ promises or bringing order to chaos. DDOT [DC Department of Transportation], for example, uses contractors for projects, and when they’re done, they move on to other stuff. If there’s a problem that arises a couple days after they leave, it can be a huge effort getting it taken care of.
Borderstan: What is the most difficult or contentious part of an ANC’s role or function?
Jacobson, ANC 2B04: The most difficult component is always making everyone feel like they are treated fairly. Not because it’s difficult to treat everyone fairly, but because each person has a different notion of what “fair” is. The unsuccessful party to any action will inevitably feel that he/she/they have not been treated fairly, even when the law or regulations have been uniformly applied. I also find it difficult when rules are established–either by the [DC] Council, an agency, or a neighborhood commission–and individual commissioners or individuals at city agencies do not follow the established rules. Consistency is the name of the game.
Raia, ANC 1B02: This kind a goes back to question #1. It affects me deeply when people are dissatisfied with a situation in our community. The hardest issues to deal with are crime and littering and that’s probably because all I can do is write letters and call it in. Sometimes results are slow. Also since my area has many ABC establishments this can sometimes make for problematic relationships between some of the residents and businesses–businesses want to succeed, residents want a reasonable amount of peace and quiet, and each has a right to those things. Most people and business I talk with feel we have enough ABC [Alcoholic Beverage Control Board] establishments and we need more local stores and retail… which I support since I believe that is smart growth. More business will help our restaurants thrive and enable them to be open for lunch and dinner. Some now are even opening for breakfast.
Reed, ANC 2F01: ANC commissioners are elected officials, and, hence, politicians, albeit non-partisan by law. But we are politicians nonetheless, which means that we deal with the competition for limited resources, the often conflicting needs of those in the community, and the problems of different interests throughout the city and the government. These realities frequently raise difficult and contentious issues, and it is the job of commissioners to try to resolve the issues using common sense, good judgment, and the art of worthwhile compromise. Liquor licensing administration, parking, public safety, management of development, city services… the list is practically endless, and it all can be difficult or contentious at times, because a lot is at stake.
Silverstein, ANC 2B06: The most contentious part is striking a balance between individual rights and the best interests of the community. Just because Joe owns a bar and the District’s liquor laws permit serving until 2 or 3 in the morning doesn’t mean Joe has an automatic right to open a sidewalk cafe next to an apartment house and keep his sidewalk cafe open until 3 a.m. on weekends. Nor does the fact that an apartment house is there give the residents the right to deny Joe the right to run a restaurant or the privilege of selling liquor. Same thing is Joe buys a house and wants to build an addition in the rear that may or may not deprive his neighbors of light and air. We need to judge these things fairly, and strike a balance. And these neighborhood battles can become quite emotional and downright nasty.
Borderstan: How much time do you spend per month on ANC business, on average?
Jacobson, ANC 2B04: An individual commissioner can literally spend as little or as much time on ANC business as she or he chooses. I feel in Dupont that we have fairly active, involved commissioners who spend on average between five and 15 hours a week on Commission business, including myself.
Raia, ANC 1B02: A good guess would be 40 to 60 hours per month spent on ANC work–sometimes more, but not less. I really try to get around and talk with people and hear their concerns or share a good story. There is so much history here when you talk to the people that have lived here for a while. I even get phone calls or text messages as late as 1:30 in the morning if someone is being disturbed by some type of noise issue from an establishment.
Reed, ANC 2F01: All told, I probably spent about 40 hours or more a month on ANC business. A significant amount of this time is also spent on administration of the ANC itself, since I am the chairman.
Silverstein, ANC 2B06: Waaay too much time, if you ask my other half. It averages out to at least two hours a day. In the three days leading up to the meeting, it’s four hours or so.
Borderstan: Anything else you want to add?
Jacobson, ANC 2B04: To me, I feel like I’ve been a successful commissioner if at the end of the day, my constituents feel like they can contact me, I will treat them all fairly and equally, and I finish any job I begin. It’s a terrific position to hold, and one I’m thankful to my constituents every day for electing me to. It’s humbling.
Raia, ANC 1B02: Even though this job has its challenges, it can be very rewarding. Sometimes it can get old hearing comments that are out there about you that are factually false. I would love to address any issues head on so we all know what the facts are and we are all better informed.
Reed, ANC 2F01: Acting as a commissioner is very satisfying, although it often comes with tough decisions and lots of criticism. But, I am a strong believer in the structure. The ANC system in the District really can work, and I am especially pleased that ANC 2F is one of the best in the City. On the other hand, I cannot overstress that no commissioner or ANC can operate effectively without the interest, help, and time of members of the community. With active community support, ANCs can indeed shape the communities they serve. In a word, get active!
Silverstein, ANC 2B06: I don’t think one size fits all with your questions, because ANC’s can be as different as the neighborhoods they represent. Ward Two includes more than half of the licensed establishments (selling or serving liquor) in the District, and 2B has the most in the ward, and my single member district has more than any in our ANC. In addition, our ANC includes five separate historic districts. These two facts inform my answers.