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?