A group of old and well-organized civic associations in Southeast Washington is providing serious competition to the fledging Advisory Neighborhood Commission in the area.
Dennis Copeland, who is active in ANC 7B, which represents the Naylor Dupont community, said that the "ANC isn't working as well as it should because it is vying for manpower with these civic associations.
"Some people who don't live over here get the idea that there is very little community participation over here, but that's not true," he said.
Copeland said, for example, ANC 7B filled all or its nine commission seats during the first ANC election while many other parts of the city did not.
The boundaries of ANC 7B are Southern Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue, Minnesota Avenue, 25th Street, Naylor Road and Gainsville Street SE. Pennsylvia Avenue just across the Sousa Bridge runs through the middle of the ANC area.
The competition between the ANC and the civic associations is most notable when both groups need citizen volunteers for projects, according to Copeland.
Both the ANC and Southeast Neighbors civic association have beautification committees and they both require volunteers, he said.
"Southeast Neighbors has been around a lot longer and its eager for them to get volunteers," Copeland said. "If we could pool our people and our resources, we could get a lot more done," he added.
The eight community organizations in ANC 7B range in age from 10 to 50 years and in membership from 40 to 200 persons.
They are the Dupont Park Civic Assn., Fort Davis Improvement Assn., Hillrect Citizens Assn., Naylor Dupont Community Assembly, Penn Branch Citizens Assn., Penn Naylor Civic Assn., Southeast Neighbors, and Naylor Dupont Community Coalition.
Some of the groups represent only their own communities, while others, like Southeast Neighbors, are concerned with promoting integration in the whole area.
Harry Kaplan, who is the president of three civic associations in the area, believes there is room for both kinds of organizations.
"We're trying to work out some kind of accommodation with the ANC, but we haven't been able to work out a formula that is completely satisfactory yet," Kaplan said.
"One of the problems is that the ANC is attempting to pick up power in the community and could weaken the civic associations by not working together as partners," he said.
Kaplan said that the civic association and the ANCs "get along on specific issues.But there are different points of view within the ANC about the relationship of the two kinds of organizations and that hasn't been resolved."
"We're trying to work out some system of cooperation with the ANC," Kaplan said. The plan now is to coordinate some of the meetings of the civic associations and the ANC and to reduce the number of individual civic association meetings, he said
Kaplan said that the ANC and the civic associations have worked together successfully on some occasions.
When there was a proposal by Metro to cut out some of the bus routes east of the river, a coalition of civic associations and the ANC got together and came up with a common position. "Together, we convinced the Metro to continue those routes," he said.
Kaplan said they also worked together to convince Columbia Federal Savings and Loan to open a new branch in their neighborhood.
"Even before the ANC existed, it might have been possible for the civic associations to make both of those programs work.
"But what the ANC has is money and a formal mechanism for getting community input," Kaplan said.
Joel McLeod, the ANC commissioner from 7C08, said that the relationship between the civic association and the ANC is "at least not hostile." The civic associations are just now beginning to expect the ANC to represent their interests, he said.
"Before the ANCs existed, the civic associations tried to keep the city council aware of our problems but that wasn't always successful. But now that the ANCs are in place, the city council expects to hear about citizen concerns from them," McLeod said.
McLeod also believes there is enough for both the ANCs and the civic groups to do.
"I think both groups would work better if the ANC became the umbrella group and the civic assoication specialized in some community issue rather than each civil association working on the same problems," he said.