In the ordinarily quiet neighborhoods of Michigan Park and Brookland in Northeast Washington, the weirdest things have been going on lately. When the Advisory Neighborhood Commission meets these days, there are more shouting matches and accusations that commissioners steal money and promote prostitution than anything else.
Commissioners of the ANC 5A are now attempting to bar the press from their meetings. Indeed, one commissioner has been locked out of meetings and, on one night in January, locked inside the ANC headquarters for several hours until D.C. police arrived to free him.
At a closed meeting last month, the ANC voted to reprimand Commissioner Virgil Thompson and administrative assistant Yvonne Watson for an altercation that followed a dispute inside the office.
"She had called me . . . stupid," Thompson recalled recently. "I said, 'your mama.' So she picked up a telephone and hit me in the face. Nobody puts their hands on me so I hit her across the eye."
The U.S. Atttorney's Office is still investigating that incident.
The fight really started back in January when newly elected members of the ANC filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court alleging that the old members were refusing to give up their seats. The suit charged that the old members had refused to let the new members see office files, use supplies and even had changed the locks on the commission headquarters and refused to turn over the keys.
Since then, charges have been made that a commissioner broke into the office and stole $50, that the payroll has been padded, that 51 percent of the taxpayers money goes for salaries, not community services, that the commission gave away a photocopying machine and that the time cards of commission employes are routinely tampered with.
D.C. Auditor Otis Troupe has been asked to audit the ANC 5A finances -- $49,000 this fiscal year, which averages out to about $1.69 in taxes paid each year by every man woman and child in the ANC service area.
A few weeks ago, one commissioner accused another of holding a meeting of the ANC housing committee at a house of prostitution. Fliers were sent out alleging a commissioner was engaged in prostitution, and now the accused commissioner is preparing to file a slander and libel suit.
To make matters worse, one of the commissioners is a D.C. police officer who wears his gun to meetings. Some residents say they are too intimidated to speak up at the meetings.
"When you're in a proceeding being chaired by a guy with sidearms, you can expect the democratic process to go down the drain," said Dave Womble, a longtime Michigan Park resident. "What I'd like to do is give that guy a karate chop, take his gun and give him some sensitivity training."
Needless to say, many residents of the neighborhood are upset. One group of concerned citizens has sent a letter of protest of D.C. City Council member William Spaulding, (D-Ward 5) who represents the ANC 5A area. The letter accused three commissioners of "tearing the community apart."
Whether or not this letter will do any good is yet to be seen. Spaulding says he's thinking about it. "I haven't decided yet, but I am exploring the possibility of establishing an investigation panel," he said.
A complicating factor is that Spaulding's daughter, Deidre, is one of the ANC 5A's 15 commissioners. Other commissioners include neighborhood residents who have campaigned for him, Mayor Marion Barry and D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy. Not too surprisingly, they are at odds with other commissioners who did not support those three.
The long-running dispute has resulted in chaos. At the last commission meeting, residents were supposed to discuss the rent control referendum. But little was said -- and nothing done.
Until something is done to straighten this mess out, it will be the hard-working residents of the Michigan Park and Brookland areas, not the politically minded commissioners, who will lose not only their voice in government, but their tax money as well.