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The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Column: Addressing the ANC’s attendance problem

Updated: Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, at 10:52 p.m.

As members of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission take roll for their monthly meetings, it’s becoming difficult to ignore the empty seats. And the commissioners who show up are becoming awfully familiar with the repetition of some regularly absent names — “Bueller … Bueller …”

The ANC is facing an attendance problem. The body has a difficult time reaching a quorum to hold votes, which affects its ability to consider agenda items and recommend policies. If representatives can’t fulfill their basic responsibilities to the public, constituents should pressure their commissioners to show up to meetings.

A unique feature of D.C.’s Home Rule Charter, ANCs are supposed to advise both federal agencies and the D.C. government on issues that impact the communities they represent. While ANCs are hardly political heavyweights in the capital’s sprawling network of government organizations, they can influence significant decisions.

When government agencies look to approve liquor licenses, rearrange traffic patterns or build homeless shelters, they are supposed to consider the relevant ANC’s input with “great weight.” Foggy Bottom’s ANC elected two representatives in November to serve on the task force charged with overseeing The Aston’s conversion into a homeless shelter. But if commissioners continue to skip meetings, the fate of this redevelopment will suffer along with the people whom it’s meant to benefit.

And when commissioners fail to attend meetings, GW students — many of whom aren’t permanent D.C. residents — lose what little representation they have in the ANC.

From state assemblies to both chambers of Congress, governing bodies nationwide are feeling the “sting of empty seats” in recent legislative sessions. Twenty-one lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle in the New Hampshire Legislature have participated in fewer than 70 percent of votes this session. As a result, pivotal pieces of legislation can often be decided by a given day’s roll call. At the federal level, absences have emerged as a key component of passing legislation in the 118th Congress. Absences played a crucial role in determining the direction of each day’s votes during Kevin McCarthy’s turbulent, 15-round election for Speaker of the House.

Being present is the bare minimum for elected officials at every level of government. Though illness and family-related absences are reasonable, commissioners have said that other members of the local governing body lack sound excuses for their truancy. Regardless of their policy positions, the ANC can’t accomplish anything with commissioners who can’t be counted on to show up.

While ANC 2A Chair Jim Malec has already called on regularly absent commissioners to resign, constituents should pressure their representatives to show up or step down from their positions. Constituents should email their commissioners, canvass the neighborhoods within ANC 2A and show up to ANC meetings to pressure their commissioners to do the same. ANC 2A’s monthly meetings are open to the public, and attending them would demonstrate the ease with which ordinary constituents can fulfill their representatives’ responsibilities.

If commissioners can’t acknowledge the concerns of their constituents when they meet face-to-face, voters should elect candidates who will show up to meetings. Now that constituents are equipped with knowledge of the body’s truancy problem, the next cycle’s election will almost certainly focus on candidates’ attendance. Instead of hoping the same commissioners will change their behavior, constituents should encourage reliable friends and family members to run for ANC 2A seats.

Whether you serve in the halls of Congress or between the bookshelves at the West End Neighborhood Library, showing up to vote matters. Commissioners are supposed to speak on behalf of their constituents, but community members will continue to lose their voice if representatives don’t show up to speak for them.

Matthew Donnell, a senior majoring in political communication and English, is an opinions columnist.

This article was updated to correct the following:

A prior version of this article incorrectly implied the D.C. government has the authority to replace regularly absent commissioners. Commissioners can only be removed via recall efforts, not through actions by individual commissions or the D.C. government. We regret this error.

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