02 November 2010

Let the sunshine in (yes, everyone else uses that title as well)

Photo by Guillaume Cattiaux on Flickr.
In late September, the Washington City Paper reported on the Open Government is Good Government Act of 2010. The bill, introduced by Councilmember Muriel Bowser, intends to make the deliberative process in city government less opaque at many levels, from the council down to the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) throughout the city.

Unfortunately, many neighborhood commissioners are up in arms because they believe that their ability to deliberate will be held hostage by the need to conform to the requirements of such a bill. The last time a similar act was written up, according to the September 29th Dupont Current, the bill gave a wholesale exemption to ANCs. That bill never passed out of committee to the whole council.

The Dupont Current article also quotes Gottlieb Simon, whose title is executive director of the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. Mr. Simon is apparently going to bat for the commissions that are opposed to the bill. The Current's editorial page argues that opposition to the bill is wrong, and I agree. The sensible reaction to difficulties that may come about because of the passage of such a bill is to create room for exceptions in case the requirements put a straitjacket on neighborhood commissions. Granting them a blanket exemption from the beginning does not sound like the way to encourage openness from the commissions.

Speaking of openness, the ANC website could use an overhaul and some more sunshine as well. It has not been moved to the new dc.gov template, and you can't even find out who is in charge of the operation without prior knowledge of the current situation. Mr. Simon's name and title appear nowhere on the webpage (unless you count the fact that you can see his address when you hover your mouse over the link that says "The office...may also be contacted by email").

Yesterday, Lydia DePillis wrote the an article about the possibility of ANC reform. It's something that Richard Layman has preached for ages. His experience included serving on one of the citizen-led committees of a Capitol Hill ANC when he lived in the neighborhood, and it's something that many in the city believe is a model other ANCs should follow.

There are many ways we could go about reforming the ANC level of government here in DC, including adjusting the size of individual commissions, encouraging more citizen involvement, or even radical reworking of the duties of the ANCs. But it all starts with openness. Without transparency in the decision-making process, corresponding changes will not have the necessary transformative impact to make them really worthwhile.

If we really want to make ANCs better, we need to pass the Open Government is Good Government Act of 2010, and make sure that the deliberations and actions of the city's ANCs are included.


  1. Here is a link to the bill mentioned above: http://www.dcfpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Bowser-Bill-029-Open-Meetings-Bill.pdf


You can be curmudgeonly too, but let's try to be civil and constructive here, ok?