Washington, DC’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) are the official voice for their neighborhoods, made up of Commissioners who each represent approximately 2,000 constituents. Since 1976, ANCs have been advising the District government about issues affecting their neighborhoods, from proposed construction projects to dangerous intersections.
But the pace and volume of Commissioners’ job has changed significantly over the years, and they engage their constituents through numerous platforms, like Facebook, NextDoor, Twitter, email, and text to name a few. Commissioners are unpaid; they volunteer their time and often simultaneously hold full-time jobs, and few ANCs have any staff. More support and resources for these local decision-makers will lead to better informed decisions, increased ability for Commissioners to resolve neighborhood issues, and less burnout from volunteers trying to meet impossible expectations.
The Office of the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (OANC) — the agency that supports ANCs — is meant to provide technical, administrative, and financial reporting assistance to the ANCs to make their work possible. For the past three years, I have chaired the committee with oversight over the OANC. I’ve worked with Council colleagues to provide ANCs with substantially more resources. We have nearly doubled the budget for ANCs and the OANC, funded two additional full-time employees to the OANC, provided technical support and IT funds, and expanded funding for ANCs to get legal assistance, among many other resources. Despite significantly increased funding and staff, and continued oversight by the Council, implementation of new support services has been slow and uneven, leaving Commissioners to fend for themselves.
This year, I led the effort to fund a strategic plan to allow Commissioners and the OANC to work jointly to reimagine the OANC. I’m also leading the search for a new executive director of the OANC. Commissioners need a director who can take the office into the future. Based on concerns I have heard from Commissioners over the past three years, I believe the next executive director must be a visionary — someone who thinks about the evolving role of the ANCs and how the OANC must evolve in turn. I also believe the OANC needs a skilled operations manager who can make sure OANC staff are utilized more fully and that the resources and systems the OANC supports are reliable and easy for Commissioners to use.
I’ve worked closely with Commissioners in the executive director search, including surveying Commissioners and holding a roundtable on the qualifications of the next OANC executive director, and we have more roundtables planned for early next year. Commissioners are our on-the-ground advocates who provide the Council and the Mayor with valuable, localized feedback that helps us do a better job meeting the needs of all residents. The more manageable we can make Commissioners’ jobs, the more effective and successful the ANCs will be.
The District has a unique government of 13 councilmembers performing the jobs that in any other jurisdiction would be divided between a large state legislature, a county council, and a city council. This leads to gaps in diversity, expertise, and efficiency. It is to the benefit of the entire city to utilize ANCs more. I believe the evolution of the OANC will encourage an increasing number of talented residents to step into and want to remain in these vital roles, and the city will be better for it.