If you want to express an opinion to your D.C. Council member, you can send an e-mail. But if you want to tell the D.C. Zoning Commission what you think of a development proposal, you have to print out a letter on paper, sign it, then scan it back in, or send them a physical letter.
This makes it hard for many residents to participate in the forum where the city’s land-use decisions get made. Not everyone has a scanner handy. It takes a fair amount of time and materials to mail a letter. There seems to be little reason not to let people send an e-mail, with comments in the text, their name and address at the bottom.
I raised this issue Thursday at an oversight hearing for the Office of Zoning. D.C. Council chairman Phil Mendelson asked Office of Zoning director Sara Bardin for the reason. This rule came about, she said, because in one case about 10 years ago, someone sent an email which falsified the name.
Therefore, she said, they decided to require a signature on all letters. Otherwise, “we can’t authenticate it should somebody come back later” and say the testimony is false.
Mendelson seemed skeptical. “It might be worth looking at that some more,” he said. He pointed out that if someone brings a petition signed by a number of residents, officials don’t necessarily authenticate them either.
Bardin never explained why it is so important to authenticate each piece of testimony. The Zoning Commission can read letters from people with and without a wiggly line at the bottom, and give each the weight members think it deserves. If they want to give more credit to letters with an ink design at the bottom, fine, but what’s the harm in accepting the letters? For that matter, did this one email 10 years ago cause great harm in a zoning case? It seems unlikely.
[Continue reading David Alpert’s post at Greater Greater Washington.]
David Alpert is founder and editor of Greater Greater Washington. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.