Friday, May 08, 2009

CPCA: Another Case Study

A recent discussion on the Greater Greater Washington Blog dealt with the current status of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, and its accurate representation of the community. Blogger David Alpert noted:

Do citizens' and civic associations represent the broad interests of residents, or very narrow factions within a neighborhood? Recently, growing numbers of residents have started to question the long-standing role of these groups as the voices of residents in the civic discourse. The Dupont Circle Citizens' Association (DCCA) faces a contested election next month, where a slate of candidates nominated by the current Board seeks to bring the neighborhood together and represent the broader resident interest, while competing candidates, nominated from the floor, would keep the organization on one specific, partisan side of major issues.

Citizens' and civic associations have existed in DC for a long time. When DC lacked home rule, they played an especially important role to amplify resident needs to a frequently uninterested Congress. They then had to fight for a better city during decades of a completely dysfunctional District government. Today, our government is much better, but residents still need a voice.

It is a good question because the ANCs and Council provide ample opportunity for residents to have a more direct voice to the city and its leadership on issues ranging from alcohol licenses to the comprehensive plan or baseball lights on a public park. So what is the purpose of a Citizens Association and what is the responsibility to provide a voice for the whole community?

As was discussed this winter, the Cleveland Park Citizens Association decided to vote (with fewer than 30 people present) in February to oppose the Giant PUD eventhough it had filed papers in opposition in January. This despite hundreds of letters and petitions of support from the broader community, even members of the CPCA. Indeed, when these numbers were disclosed during a recent Zoning Commission hearing, the Commission Chair, Anthony Hood noted that such a low turnout was not representative of the community, did not constitute a quorum and if he conduction an association in such a manner, his tenure as president would be short.

At the monthly meeting on May 7th, CPCA President gave an impassioned speech to the few assembled about the heart and soul of the Cleveland Park community, and how the AWARE group (Giant supporters) were staging a coup. The allegations included the characterization that AWARE was nothing more than shills for the developer and a groups of newer residents who have neither the best interests of the community or its community association at heart.

One board member offered a resolution prohibiting Board membership by a CPCA member until said member had enjoyed 6 months of membership. According to the CPCA bylaws (pdf) Article VII, Section 3 "Election of all officers and delegates and members of the Nominating Committee may by request be by a secret, written ballot. A majority vote of those qualified members present and voting is required for election." So in other words, the it was proposed that the definition of "qualified members" be amended to exclude any recent applicants for membership to participate in the posted nomination and election process.

CPCA President George Idelson admitted that such a provision had been considered by the Executive Committee, but after some discussion the amendment was tabled.

So it begs the question, are these valid organizations in terms of representing the true voice of the community? What are they afraid of when suggesting such measures as amending by-laws to maintain control? Perhaps it is time for the heart and soul of the community to be truly represented?


T said...

I wouldn't even know how to go about getting involved in these associations or even how to find out who is on them.

The stereotype of the Cleveland Park Historical Association seems to be absurdly-rich bored people for whom people parking in front of their houses is an affront worse than the highest insult and thus are responsible for keeping new business out of all the empty storefronts.

But then, to me, they're all just some shadowy secret entity; might as well be something out of the X-Files.

Considering I've lived in or near Cleveland Park for nearly 20 years of my life, this would suggest they really need to be more open and transparent to Cleveland Park residents.

DC Poster said...

To be fair, this is the Cleveland Park Citizens Association, as distinct from the Cleveland Park Historical Society. Both groups have websites (linked from this blog) and both occasionally post announcements on the neighborhood listservs.

Deanwood Denizen said...

What exactly is CPCA a case study of? Is it a case study of residents who not until they have their own personal (maybe selfish) reasons get involved even though work and issues have been going on for years? Or is it a case study of seasoned civic leaders feeling threatened by the new ways of civic engagement (blogs, facebook, etc.)? Let's not make much ado about something that has transpired in organizations througout the years--the push and pull of growth. New residents who sometimes beaugarde their way in pushing the seniors to the side and seniors holding tight to protocol. All these "outside" groups piling on does nothing to get at the crux of the issues--ensuring the quality of life for the neighborhood is the best it can be. By the way, I am a 34 y-o female who has seen this situation up close and personal in my own Ward 7 neighborhood.

DC Poster said...

The Deanwood,

I think everyone is thankful for volunteer positions such as ANCs and Community and Civic Associations. The issue here however is that the CPCA appears to be managed by a 6 person executive committee, whose meetings regularly attract about 20-30 dues-paying members. By not hearing the clarion call for neighborhood sentiment over the past 1-2 years, this group has placed made itself into a neighborhood pariah. That is okay, except when you claim to be speaking on behalf of the whole community before the Zoning Commission, the ANC and other bodies.

The hubris associated with the aftermath of this, where current President George Idelson has suspended the by-laws so he can hang on to his leadership for another couple of months is simply shocking, and a demonstration of the lack of regard the organization really has for the community, much less the legitimacy of similar groups across the city.

In fact, I would suggest that the ANCs and Council revisit the idea that these groups have some sort of political standing, given that many were created in the pre-ANC District of Columbia. Is their really a need for ANCs AND Community Associations?

(The answer is probably yes, but for different reasons. See Chevy Chase Community Association as a pretty good model)