Neighborhoods and other subdivisions of the District of Columbia could incorporate themselves as separate government entities with authority to provide some services now provided by the city, under a constitutional provision tentatively approved by the D.C. statehood convention.
The convention voted for the "local authority" article on first reading Thursday night, permitting neighborhoods or combinations of neighborhoods to petition for a local government charter and elect their own officials.
The charter, with the approval of the state legislature, would grant some powers--for example, trash collection or snow removal--but the language of the constitution specifically prohibits the key powers to tax, zone land or enact legislation.
Convention delegates likened the system variously to New England townships and small towns within suburban Montgomery County that split or share public services with county and state authorities. Such towns and townships, however, often have taxing and legislative power.
The statehood convention also voted to keep the present advisory neighborhood commission system intact in the city.
Convention delegates, who questioned the need for much of the article, knocked out one proposed section that would have empowered local government units to obtain appropriations from the state legislature "in lieu of specified public services" that otherwise would be provided by the state for local residents.
Ward 3 delegate Philip Schrag said, however, that even with deletion of the section, locally chartered governments still could receive state funds, although the legislature would no longer be constitutionally required to provide them.
Other delegates had additional questions.
"I'm concerned about the proliferation of local governments" competing for state funds, said Ward 7 delegate David Barnes. Public services "could become fragmented," said Ward 8 delegate James Coates. And Ward 1 delegate Richard Bruning said that local governments could contract out services to cheap, untrained private employes, undermining both the city's civil service and the general labor market.