As the D.C. Council wrestles with a proposal to overhaul the city's ethics laws, locally elected community activists are realizing that language in the bill could mean added scrutiny for the 280 or so members of D.C.'s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.
From nitty-gritty issues like trash collection and parking to the high-stakes world of million-dollar developments, ANC members are the engine of D.C.'s civic life. The commissioners are unpaid, elected officials who get a chance to weigh in on almost every facet of life in the District -- specifically, the ones that require government action and attention.
Under the ethics reform bill currently before the D.C. Council, ANC members will be explicitly covered under the new rules, and treated as "public officials."
While ANC "reps" do not draw a salary for their work, they are in charge of the groups' budgets. Earlier this year, a D.C. audit report determined that one commissioner had misspent more than $30,000 dollars from the ANC account.
Gottlieb Simon, head of the D.C.'s office of advisory neighborhood commissions, is still trying to work through exactly what the new bill will mean for ANCs.
"I'm still studying all of the 106 page ethics bill but I do know all of ANCs will not be required follow all of the requirements that some of the other elected officials have," Simon says.
Dozens of ANC members from every ward in the city gathered at the Wilson Building for the annual Christmas party Monday night, and not surprisingly, the ethics bill was a popular topic of conversation.
ANC Commissioner Kent Boese, who represents neighborhoods in Ward 1, says he's fine with being treated like a council member, and calls the potential for added scrutiny a step in the right direction.
"We may not be paid but we do that opportunity to have a breach of the public trust," says Boese. "If you don't have the trust, then there is nothing you can get accomplished."
For ANC commissioner Keith Silver, the real problem is that the council and mayor's administration do not listen enough to the ANCs. By way of example, he calls the deal the city struck with Walmart a "total disaster."
"I guarantee you 75 percent of the ANC commissioners would say they are not being adequately being listened to or responded by D.C. government," says Silver.
But other commissioners say they feel the government is receptive to their input and that they appreciate the chance to represent their neighbors.