What are Advisory Neighborhood Commission(er)s?

The following content is borrowed from Commissioner Costello with permission, because I can’t improve on it.

First established in 1976, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are non-partisan, neighborhood bodies made up of locally-elected representatives called Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners. ANCs were established to bring government closer to the people, and to bring the people closer to government. Commissioners serve two-year terms without pay.

A Commissioner’s main job is to be their neighborhood’s official voice in advising the District government on issues affecting their community. Although District agencies are not required to follow an ANC’s advice, they are required by law to give an ANC’s recommendations “great weight.” Moreover, District law says that agencies cannot take any action that will significantly affect a neighborhood - including zoning, streets, recreation, education, social services, sanitation, planning, safety, budget, and health services - unless they give the affected ANC 30 days’ advance notice.

Commissioners may also initiate recommendations for improving city services, conduct neighborhood improvement programs, and monitor resident complaints.

end of borrowed content

I want to know more about…

We can’t do the work of making our neighborhoods and city the best they can be if we don’t understand our tools. I’ve prepared this index of topics to let folks jump in wherever they’re unclear, and check back as needed if they get lost. If you’re genuinely curious and are confused by any of the below, let’s discuss and we’ll improve our understanding and these explanations together!

  • A loaded acronym that can refer to:

    • Advisory Neighborhood Commissions: identified by DC Ward and a letter (e.g. 5C) these are (very) local governing bodies
    • Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners: an elected member of a Commission
    • occasionally Neighborhood Commission Areas, a Commission’s geographic jurisidiction
    • occasionally Single Member Districts, political subdivisions of a Neighborhood Commission Area and a single Commissioner’s constituency

  • Local governing bodies that are:

    • unique to the District of Columbia
    • provisioned by the federal DC Home Rule Act of 1973, and a 1974 ballot referendum of DC residents
    • a testament to the hyperlocal governance DC historically performed through Civic Groups
    • a result of lacking local representation pre-Home Rule
    A Commission

  • A geographical section of DC that is:

    • redrawn every decade following the US Census (most recently in 2022, taking effect in 2023)
    • one of 46 that make up the whole of DC (starting in 2023 and until the next redistricting)
    • one of 5-7 in a particular Ward, though some are split between Wards (e.g. 3/4G and 6/8F)
    • further split into 2-12 Single-Member Districts

  • A human member of a Commission, elected:

    • from a Single Member District
    • in a nonpartisan General Election contest
    • to serve a two-year term without pay

  • Frequently shortened to SMD. Identified by Commission and a two-digit number (e.g. 5C07), an SMD is:

    • a district that elects one Commissioner
    • a subdivision of a Neighborhood Commission Area
      • with each Commission containing 2-12 SMDs
        • in turn determining the number of seats in that Commission
      • for a total of 345 SMDs DC-wide in 2023
      • redrawn each decade to contain roughly 2000 residents by Census numbers

  • Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are governed by a number of laws, rulings, and texts, including

    what bylaws include

    Per DC Code § 1–309.11(d)(1):
    • (A) The geographic boundaries of the Commission area;
    • (B) A statement of Commission responsibilities;
    • (C) Voting procedures;
    • (D) The establishment of standing and special committees, including provisions for giving public notice of all committee meetings;
    • (E) The manner of selection of chairpersons and other officers;
    • (F) Presiding officers;
    • (G) Procedures for prompt review and action on committee recommendations;
    • (H) The use of the Commission office and supplies;
    • (I) Procedures for receipt of, and action upon constituent recommendations at both the single-member district and Commission levels;
    • (J) Pursuant to § 1-309.13(c), the procedures for the filling of a vacancy in the office of treasurer; and
    • (K) Transition protocols for officer positions; and
    • (L) A tiebreaking procedure for Commission officer elections.

  • I’d categorize the work into three buckets:

    • casework: hearing and conveying details of certain types of projects (examples listed below) within the Commission boundaries and taking the lead on shaping outcomes based on community concerns
    • bureaucracy: creating and tracking service requests with various DC (and federal) agencies to secure desired improvements and outcomes for the community
    • outreach: general visibility within the community and offering knowledge and support to working groups, community organizations, or the Council
    The logistics of how a Commission approaches work and what is delegated to individual Commissioners depends on the by-laws and formal resolutions of a Commission, as well as the capacity of individual Commissioners. Official actions of a Commission must occur in publicly announced and accessible meetings with a quorum present, by formal votes on motions. Informational and preparatory matters can be handled in less formal ways as authorized. Commissions have a quarterly allocation of funds from the DC budget based on population represented (~$19k annually for a 7-member Commission in 2023, with savings carried forward indefinitely) to spend on basic functions or outreach projects.

    • Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA): When applicants (e.g. developers of a building) are seeking minor zoning relief such as higher lot coverage or fewer parking spaces than generally required of a particular zone, they go before the BZA, which will expect ANCs to marshall community input/feedback on the project and ideally pass a formal Resolution of Support or Opposition.
    • Zoning Commission (ZC): Similar to BZA cases, though these concern larger variances such as changes to the Zoning Map, or Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) where significant variance is granted in exchange for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).
    • Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB): The HPRB considers cases of newly protected landmarks or districts, modification of the original L’Enfant street plan, or the adjudication of construction on a protected building for design/material compatibility.
    • Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA): Establishments that serve, sell, or produce alcohol apply for various kinds of licenses that can have any number of limitations or provisions. ANCs are one of several types of party with standing that can seek to influence the conditions on a business through the license application/renewal process.
    • District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Notices of Intent (NOIs): These are near-final plans for the installation/modification of transportation infrastructure. This can include small projects like the installation of a speedhump, or larger ones like significantly reapportioning road space to accomodate protected bike lanes. ANCs are given a chance to comment, and their comments (or formal resolutions of opposition) can significantly delay work.

  • 🚧

  • 🚧

  • The recognition DC agencies legally must confer to ANC resolutions. Commissions formally vote on resolutions of support or opposition to cases before various DC agencies and decision-making bodies. In the absence of a resolution, somebody with business before one of those entities would need to establish work was done to brief the relevant Commission and gain its support. Commissions may also vote for resolutions regarding pending or desired legislative/executive action, which can inform Councilmembers and the Mayor of the will of their constituents. Agencies are supposed to seriously consider concerns raised, though a DC Auditor investigation found inconsistent results across various agencies.

  • For information about 5C/5C07 meetings specifically, see the calendar page.

    A lot of ANC business occurs through meetings. There are various kinds of “ANC meetings” to be aware of, including:

    • Full Commission meetings; also called public meetings, regular meetings, or just ANC meetings. These meetings:
      • are legally required to occur at least nine times a year
      • require attendance of a quorum of Commissioners within a Commission
      • must be open to the public
      • must be noticed to the public ahead of time by seven days and multiple approved methods
      • are the only suitable venue for official Commission actions (e.g. voting on resolutions/letters); any challenge to the above requirements is a challenge to the legitimacy of actions taken
      • usually involve a structured agenda
    • Special meetings may be called for meetings that fail to abide by public noticing requirements and/or a regular schedule above, provided any official actions taken in the meeting are narrowly targeted towards matters of urgency, for which waiting for the next regular meeting would cause undue burden.
    • Committee-of-the-Whole meetings; also called administrative, executive, or planning meetings. Any meeting on ANC matters involving a quorum of Commissioners from a single Commission must be public. These hold many similar requirements to the above, but they are unlikely to be structured and cannot involve official actions.
    • Single-Member District (SMD) meetings: these are outreach events for a single Commissioner to engage with the constituency of their district. These are more common in some parts of DC than others, and do not have any legal requirements or weight. They may be structured as a meeting, or less structured (more like office hours than a meeting). They may also be integrated with an activity such as a community cleanup event. Commissioners are free to be creative about this type of outreach, or forego it entirely. That said, per cultural norms, these meetings are considered a precondition to bring official actions in 5C (5B also operates this way).
    • Committee meetings: if a Commission is making use of Committees for focused outreach or fact-finding, there will likely be meetings for these as well. The structure and what legal provisions will vary based on how the Committees and their meetings are set up, though they are generally subject to public meeting requirements.

  • Per § 1–309.01(b)(1):

    The Commission may declare a quorum and take official action if a majority of single-member district Commissioners of the Commission is present, provided that a majority of the single-member districts have Commissioners on the Commission pursuant to § 1-309.06.
    So, a quorum has two requirements:
    • the Commission must have a majority of its seats filled
    • A majority of seated Commissioners must be present

  • There are multiple kinds of votes that could occur. Generally, ANC votes are roll-call votes (each Commissioner votes in turn) and up/down (votes are for or against a proposal) For a given vote, there is a number associated with each of these categories:

    1. Commission seats: the number of SMDs within the Commission
    2. Commissioners or filled seats: the number of seats with a sworn in Commissioner (i.e. not vacant)
    3. present Commissioners: Commissioners in attendance at a meeting, less than or equal to the number of filled seats
    4. participating Commissioners: the sum of actual votes. For up/down, there are only two subgroups:
      • voting in the affirmative (for/yes/yea)
      • voting in the negative (against/no/nay)
    5. abstentions: Commissioners present but abstaining from vote/not voting (could be zero)
    Bylaws can possibly restrict present Commissioners from abstaining for certain categories of vote, or restrict certain votes from being considered if there are absences. Unless specifics are noted, presume both abstentions and absences can occur.

  • Unless otherwise defined, a majority is more than half. As we’re discussing whole seats (whether vacant, filled, present), this would be half plus one if there are an even number of seats in consideration, or half plus .5 if there are an odd number. If the fraction defined for a particular scenario is something other than a half (e.g. 2/3rds), then the requirement would round up to the nearest whole number.

    seats minimum for majority
    6 4
    7 4
    10 6

    majority of what

    Beyond quorum, by-laws appear to have a lot of flexibility. They can define:
    • individual types of votes (e.g. a vote to amend bylaws)
    • for any vote type, minimal requirements for:
      • Commissioner attendance
      • Commissioner participation (i.e. voting i.e. not abstaining)
      • a majority threshold other than half for necessary yes votes
      • what counts as a vote against passage among no votes, abstentions, absences, and vacancies (what the yes vote count needs to be divided by to minimally meet the passage threshold)
    There is no consistency in how this might be worded, a finite list of vote types, or high likelihood the information would be organized in one place within the bylaws.

    example verbiage

    As unwritten rules for ANC business default to Robert’s Rules, it seems like some of these are the least ambiguous preferred terms:
    verbiage what counts against
    not specified no votes
    of votes cast no votes
    of voting members/Commissioners no votes
    of members/Commissioners present no votes, abstentions
    of all members/Commissioners no votes, abstentions, absences
    of entire membership/Commission no votes, abstentions, absences
    of entire fixed membership no votes, abstentions, absences, vacancies
    Note that last one is quite rare, as it would be very high burden. There is, unfortunately, little consistency of phrasing among the existing ANC bylaws. Some of the many ways they might be phrased here:
    Commission bylaw verbiage likely meaning
      a two-thirds vote of those present and voting yea or nay the vote passes if yes votes/Commissioners present and not abstaining is greater than 2/3rds of Commissioners present and not abstaining.
      a majority of all Commissioners voting in the affirmative the vote passes if yes votes/Commissioners seated regardless of absence or abstention is greater than 2/3rds of Commissioners seated regardless of absence or abstention.
      a majority of of the elected representatives of the Commission are present and voting a vote cannot be held unless greater than a half of seated Commissioners are present and not abstaining
    2022-5C A quorum for the election [of officers] shall be one half of the Commission membership, plus one the usual quorum rules, even though if taken literally for an odd-sized Commission, it would be one extra
    2022-5C Commission actions, except for amending these By-Laws, shall be approved by a simple majority of those Commission members present and voting. the default threshold for voting is that, among “yea” and “nay” votes, the majority are “yea”
    2022-5C Revision of these By-Laws requires a two thirds vote of the entire Commission “entire Commission” might refer to all seats or filled seats here

  • 🚧