28 Jul 2010

Do You Care About Your Neighborhood?

image uploaded by fendyzaidan on Flickr

Do you have opinions about how things should be run around here?  Do you have 25 neighbors who think you have some good ideas about how to run things on your street?  Then maybe you should consider running for a spot on your ANC.

ANCs — Advisory Neighborhood Commissions — we remind you about the meetings every month.  It’s where you can voice your opinion about whether or not streets should be shut down for marathons, whether or not a restaurant should have its liquor license renewed, whether or not your neighbor should be able to build a deck on their roof…and much more.  As stated by dc.gov, “The ANCs’ main job is to be their neighborhood’s official voice in advising the District government on things that affect their neighborhoods. Although they are not required to follow the ANCs’ advice, District agencies are required to give the ANC’s recommendations ‘great weight.’ Moreover, District law says that agencies cannot take any action that will significantly affect a neighborhood unless they give the affected ANC 30 days’ advance notice. This includes zoning, streets, recreation, education, social services, sanitation, planning, safety, budget, and health services.  The ANCs also initiate recommendations for improving city services, conduct neighborhood improvement programs, and monitor resident complaints.”

The 37 ANCs in the city are each subdivided into a number of smaller areas called Single Member Districts (SMDs).   Each SMD, which consists of approximately 2,000 people, gets one SMD Commissioner to represent them on their ANC.  For example, ANC 6B has 11 SMDs, which means that ANC 6B has 11 Commissioners, each representing a chunk of the ANC, as seen in this map.  The biggest ANCs have 12 SMDs, while the smallest only have two.  So come election day, you vote for your SMD Commissioner, who is expected to represent you when decisions are made and keep you up to date on important neighborhood news.  To figure out which ANC and SMD you live in, put your address into the DC Citizen Atlas.

I recently read a post about ANCs on We Love DC, which highlighted the fact that few seats are ever challenged.  In 2008, there were 35 ANC seats on the ballot.  Of those, 24 were unopposed and 2 had no candidate.

  • 6A: 5 of 8 seats unopposed in 2008, 1 seat with no declared candidate
  • 6B: 6 of 11 seats unopposed in 2008, 1 seat with no declared candidate
  • 6C: 9 of 9 seats unopposed in 2008
  • 6D: 4 of 7 seats unopposed in 2008

I wasn’t surprised by the numbers but it did leave me feeling disappointed at how often a lame duck can hold that position.   Maybe people don’t know how easy it is to run, or think it’s too daunting a job.  Well, think again.  It may be a volunteer position that can be quite thankless.  But it is also a chance for you to actually make a difference in your neighborhood.  And, as I understand it, it’s not an unmanageable time commitment for the average person.

So do I have you thinking about it?  All you need to do is pick up a nomination petition on August 4th from the DC Board of Elections, get 25 of your neighbors in your SMD to sign it, and turn in your signatures by September 3rd.  And then on November 2, your name will be on the ballot!  You should probably also do some campaigning along the way as well, to let your neighbors know who you are and why they should vote for you.  And while you’re at it, send me an email (ClaudiaTheHillisHome at gmail dot com) with your name, the position you are running for, and your website so we can help spread the word about who is running for each seat in our soon-to-launch Capitol Hill Election Guide.

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  • Frank Zampatori

    Excellent job explaining the role of ANC’s and the need for individuals to participate who have as their prime interest their neighborhood rather than running primarily for their own resume enhancement. A couple of minor points:

    1. If one decides to run as an ANC Commissioner in 2010, the Board of Elections and Ethics will provide the candidate with a list of registered voters and addresses within their SMD so they can collect the 25 petition signatures to qualify for the ballot. Its best to get a few more signatures than the required 25.

    2. ANC boundaries will change after the 2010 census reuults are obtained. A task force will be set up in each Ward in 2011 with participants appointed by the various elected officials. The task forces will have about 90 days to design the boundaries to take into account population shifts. (Ward boundaries may also change after the census.)

    3. In ANC 6B, SMD 6B11 is always vacant because it contains only the DC Jail. As such there is no permanent elegible resident who is able to represent the SMD.

    4. Because of the lack of serious challengers, many SMDs are represented by “dead wood” who occupy the position. Its time that some new residents might want to consider taking on these responsibilities.

    I served on the 2001 ANC task force and it was great watching the new ANC 6A take shape and function over the years. Hope your article generates a lot of interest in ANCs. Again, a well done piece of work.

  • @Frank – Thanks for the extra info! I was wondering why SMD11 was vacant in ANC 6B. Why even make an SMD there if no one is eligible to represent it?

    Hopefully this year’s elections will have a better turn out so we can get rid of some of that “dead wood”

  • I understand, and someone please correct me if I’m wrong, that 6B11 exists because folks in jail are counted for census purposes as residents of the jail and not where they are from. This also applies to other transients like college students, military members, etc. Consequently, we have a large number of “residents” in the area we have to account for, but none are eligible to vote or stand for office.

    That being said, I’m crossing the street and setting up a tent. I see this as a challenge and plan to faithfully serve as YOUR ANC 6B11 Representative.

    Not sure how I’m going to get 25 signatures though. Maybe I can trade cigarettes for them at the jail?

  • David

    Competition is always a good thing, but I suggest to your readers that they educate themselves about their current commissioner before deciding to run.

    There are some very competent and hard-working people serving as commissioners. Sometimes unopposed means no one has a complaint about the incumbent because of good service; help with city issues; awareness of developing crime, business, and education problems; and the knowledge of municipal regulations and government pressure points that can only come from experience.

    Being a commissioner is a great way to help your neighbors and give back to the community. Even if you don’t run for commissioner, several ANCs have committees that need citizen participation. The committees are a great way to learn about your community’s needs and how the city government meets or fails to meet those needs.

  • Yes, people should do their homework, and I hope that anyone who takes a campaign seriously would start with that. At the same time, a lot of those seats run unopposed because no one realizes that they can do something about it. My last ANC rep did next to nothing, but was always unopposed at election time — no one around here thought to run or knew how to get on the ballot.

    I get the sense that the competent and hard working commissioners are known among their neighbors, so not much research really needs to be done. And sometimes, fresh blood is still better than the same old thing.

    Great point about the committees. That would be a good topic for a follow up post. Anything that helps people get involved is a good thing, in my opinion!

  • Joe Fengler

    I will lend my voice to those that encourage talking out petitions to run for office. From zoning and development to restaurants and bars to city services – ANCs are often the first line of defense (or offense) for residents. If you don’t have an effective ANC representative, then you will be impacted in ways you will not understand until it is often too late to do anything about it. Plus, even if you don’t run, attend an ANC meeting. It is only two hours a month. Think of all the bad TV you might watch over 30 days. …

  • Carl

    In 2008, a write-in candidate received 2 votes for ANC 6B11. Why was the position not filled by this person, since he or she had the most votes?

  • @HStreetDC

    If there are questions about an ANC election such as the one that Carl poses, contact Gottlieb Simon, executive director of the city’s Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. Gottlieb.Simon@dc.gov
    If there are no candidates who have filed for the office, the person who wins as a write-in must qualify at the DCBOEE after the election. Mr. Simon can likely tell you why the person was not allowed to take the seat. It could be as simple as his not being a legal resident of the SMD.

  • I have no explanation for that but am working on figuring it out. There were two votes for a write-in candidate in 2004 and 2006 as well. Several ANC6B commissioners have confirmed for me that there are no eligible voters in that SMD (the census counts inmates as residents of the jail), so no ballot has a spot to write in a candidate for the seat.

    But that makes it seem even more odd that the results posted by the DC Board of Election and Ethics would list two votes for that seat…as soon as I get some sort of answer, I’ll let you know!

  • Carl

    Thank you, Claudia and HStreetDC, for your responses. How can a person be disqualified as a candidate for not being a legal resident without also being disqualified as a voter? The Board of Elections & Ethics website indicates that a candidate must be a registered voter, have 25 signatures from the single-member district, and must reside in the SMD for at least 60 days before turning in a petition. It says that write-in candidates must meet the same qualifications as other candidates. This makes no sense, because write-in candidate do not turn in petitions. Does he or she need to be a resident for 60 days before signing a write-in acceptance? Also, I never get a reply to any e-mail message sent to BOEE.

  • Carl, I’m as stumped at you are! I’m still working on getting in touch with someone who can explain this and will let you know as soon as I get an answer.

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