Mayor Marion Barry's efforts to organize a citywide network of "community service" volunteers has angered and disturbed some members of the District's 36 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, a random sampling of commissioners showed last week.
Twelve ANC commissioners of 18 interviewed citywide said they are worried that the new organization, established along party lines, could duplicate the commissioners' functions and thereby undermine their role and effectiveness as nonpolitical entities that relay citizen views to city government officials. A few ANC members said they could support an effort to improve the delivery of city services.
It was reported last week that the mayor is organizing an unprecedented citywide network of volunteers--one for every 200 voters--to take care of complaints about city services and to publicize the mayor's work. The network is to be financed through the Office of Community Services and run by city employes. But critics contend that it is a thinly camouflaged taxpayer-financed extension of Barry's campaign operation.
"There are some pretty strong feelings on the part of some ANC 3C commissioners who are critical of what the mayor is doing," said Phil Mendelson, chairman of the Cleveland Park-Woodley Park ANC. "There are people who think this type of politics is inappropriate."
But Stanley Mayes, chairman of the Le Droit Park ANC and a Barry supporter said: "I think it's much ado about nothing. The first obligation of a politician is to get elected and the mayor's entitled to do that. If he wants to set up a grass-roots organization to do that and make its auxiliary function to improve city services, he can."
Other commissioners said they see the new network as a needless and possibly counterproductive duplication of the charge given ANCs in the District's Home Rule Charter.
"We are the established grass-roots network," said Alan Beach, chairman of Chevy Chase ANC 3G. "The system's already in place. I am opposed to another level that I'm not sure is necessary, and certainly not at taxpayers' expense."
Mark Plotkin, an ANC commissioner in West Glover Park, said he was concerned that the ANC's effectiveness will be limited if they are bypassed because of the network. "The ANCs perform a valuable function and we're nonpartisan and we're elected. If they want a system where a person has to go through an anointed Barry person to get a city service, well . . . that's not what we want here. We're in Washington, not Chicago."
James F. Onley, chairman ANC 7D in the Minnesota-Benning area of Northeast, said he was more concerned about the motives behind the organization. "I wonder, could it be an effort to push us out?" he said.
"It's kind of funny, but what surprised me was when I read that they will have refreshments," said O'Bryant Kenner, an Adams Morgan ANC 1C commissioner, referring to reports that staff aides of the new organization will be allowed to pay volunteers for minor expenses such as tea and cookies at meetings. "We have talked about how we would love to do that at ANC expense . That's something that we are limited by law from doing."
"I just have an oral consensus from our commissioners that we just don't see the need for this, but . . . we haven't touched on . . . what to do," said Constance Thompson, chairman of ANC 7F in Fort Chaplin-Benning Heights in Northeast. "If instead we could just get the mayor's office to get the city agencies to work with the ANCs . . . the ANCs really could be more effective."
" It's a politicizing of community service using public funds," said Diane Sheahan, speaking for her commission as vice chairman of ANC 3E in the University Park-Friendship Heights area. "There is no need for this wasted duplication of effort and money. Every ANC and every D.C. taxpayer should demand that council member Bill Spaulding's (D-Ward 5) government affairs committee call an oversight hearing."
The new corps of volunteers has some supporters within ANC ranks. "The concept is an excellent one, if we are talking about better delivery of services to the citizens who need it most, but I don't think that's all this is," said Stephen A. Levy of ANC 2B in Foggy Bottom-West End, alluding to the political makeup of the network.
"Any adverse reaction you may be hearing, it's because they are adverse to competition and they are more worried about protecting their turf than anything ," said James B. Miles, chairman of ANC 7C. "If it enables the service to be delivered better, I say, why not?"