The Advisory Neighborhood Commission Information Office has gone out of business, almost two years after it opened and more than four months after it ran out of funds.
The information office, the city's official link between the 365 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners in the District, closed in mid-February. Congress had cut off funds in October, when it refused to approve the entire budget request for the office of $88,000 for fiscal 1978.
"We had to close the office. We had no money and no authority to keep it open. It would have been illegal to try to keep it open longer," said Joseph Yeldell, general assistant to Mayor Walter E. Washington.
The cut was made at the same time Congress pared the overall ANC budget from $1 million to $500,000 for this fiscal year, he said. The House had threatened to cut off all funding for the ANCs, but the Senate voted to continue the funding at half the level of the 1977 budget and convinced the House to go along.
The 1978 city budget is still awaiting final approval on Capitol Hill. But anticipating that the amount of money appropriated for ANC activities would not change, Yeldell closed the office.
Yeldell said money for the office actually ran out at the end of September. Martin K. Schaller, executive secretary to the mayor, said money to operate the office during the four months it was without funding "will have to be absorbed in the mayor's budget." Officials estimated that expenses between Oct. 1 and the date the office closed were about $30,000.
Yeldell said he kept the office open after it officially had been eliminated so he would have time to try to find positions for the four staff members. The two professional staff members --Jean Davis and Janet Wilson -- have been assigned to other jobs in the District government. Davis, who was director of the office, has been transferred to the Manpower Services Planning office, and Wilson, who was an information specialist, has returned to her former job in Schaller's office. Two secretarial staff members have been dismissed, Yeldell said.
"The functions performed by the information office will no longer be done," Yeldell said. He said all ANC records, which had been kept by the information office, will be transferred to his office, although his staff will only keep the records on file and will not take over any work that had been carried out by the information office.
Davis said the information office was the only central clearing agency in the city for ANC business, acting as a liaison between the ANCs and the city and federal agencies and providing the ANCs with information they needed to operate.
"Some of them needed a lot of help getting organized," she said. "They would call and ask us to help them with the agencies or to interpret some bill or settle some conflict over the interpretation of the law which implemented them."
She said the office kept copies of annual reports by the ANCs, letters and inquiries sent by the ANCs to city agencies and any other official records or correspondence.
"We were the only agency to keep all the records," she said. "The next time Congress asked what the ANCs had done, we could have told them. Now, no one will be able to do that unless all the ANCS keep their records in very good shape."
She added that because of the information office the ANCs had begun to have more effective relationships with city and federal agencies.
"The agencies were beginning to respond better to them. We were the pacifiers between them and the agencies. I think closing the office will slow things down.
"If ever there was a time the ANCs could use the support of the information office, it is now. Congress has given the ANC's a year to prove themselves."
Yeldell said the mayor's office had tried to get the information office refunded by including a request for money in the budget for fiscal 1979. "We wanted to fund the office at the same level it had been funded -- $88,000," he said.
However, the City Council, during budget hearings in October, asked the ANCs to justify the continued existence of the information office. According to a spokesman on council member Willie Hardy's staff, most ANCs said they did not need the office. The spokesman said the council committee on the ANCS, whose chairman is Hardy, heard public testimony and also received written testimony and telephone calls regarding the information office.
Based on that information, the committee recommended that funds for the office be eliminated, and the council approved the recommendation.
The funds were restored briefly by Mayor Washington, but the city council again eliminated them when it overrode the mayor's veto.
The information office opened in March 1976, and in May 1977, Davis was appointed director, replacing Wilson who had been temporarily assigned to the job. The month Congress cut its funds, the office was moved from first floor of the District Building across the street to the Munsey Building, so the council would use the entire first floor of the District Building for office space. No notices of the closing were sent to the ANC commissioners, although many commissioners were aware that there was no money to maintain the office, according to Wilson.
News of the closing drew mixed reactions from ANC commissioners.
Hank Larsen, ANC 4A04, said, "We can cerntainly operate without the information office, but it was a convenience. It was a conduit between the mayor's office, the agencies and the ANCs. Its closure will cut out our communications center between the groups.
"The office never had the time to function the way it was destined to, but it did a service as best it could."
Donald Shannon, ANC 3A06, said, "I think this is a move for the best. We got more service from the information office when it was run by one person that we do now from the entire staff. I don't think we need a high-powered person like Jean Davis. She was paid a lot of money.
"We got the hell whacked out of our budgets. I think its fair that the government should share in the cuts."
According to Schaller, Davis earned $26,000 a year.