[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following are the lengthy responses that ANC 4B commissioner Tanya Topolewski’s wrote to the community listservs following a chaotic series of meetings for the commission in the month of February. They are being reprinted with permission.
In order to clear the air and get to the bottom of the public issue, other ANC commissioners are welcome to share their side of the story as well.]
Dear 4B neighbors,
Kathleen and several of my constituents asked for an explanation for the special meeting request of ANC 4B. I’d like to explain this call for a special meeting to the best of my abilities. To me, it’s important that the ANC operate in a much more transparent manner than we do. In my personal opinion, we as a Commission owe the community much more communication than we give you. This hurts our ability to effectively represent you. This email is a small effort to bring some clarity and transparency for you, our constituents.
The following Commissioners called this special meeting: Commissioner Judi Jones 4B07, Commissioner Brenda Parks 4B04, Commissioner Tischa Cockrell 4B09, Commissioner Natalee Snider 4B06, Commissioner Yolanda Hughes 4B05 SEE MAP at ANC4B.org.
AGENDA Item #1: Complete the election of Chair and Vice Chair
During January’s ANC meeting, officer elections were held. Eight Commissioners were present. Results:
- 4 TO 4 TIE VOTE FOR CHAIR Incumbent Chair Andre Carley v Challenger Judi Jones
- 4 TO 4 TIE VOTE FOR VICE CHAIR Incumbent Vice Chair Barbara Rogers v Challenger Brenda Parks
The elections were overseen by a representative from the ANC Office. She informed us that the process in case of a tie is that a second vote will be held at the next meeting (February 26).
The bylaws of the ANC require 6 Commissioners to be present for an election to be valid. It is doubtful that there will be the required six Commissioners at the special meeting.
AGENDA Item #2: Suspend all committees until the committee bylaw language is complete.
Committees have been in operation for ANC4B for over two years. I have served on 4B’s Design Review Committee since its first meeting in December of 2015. I was elected to the ANC in 2016, and my term stared January 2017. I still serve on the Design Review Committee in addition to my duties as Commissioner. Committees are governed by the ANC’s Bylaws and Rules of Procedure. These were appropriately voted on and adopted by ANC4B in 2015.
However, integrating the committees into the ANC4B process has been problematic. The committees were established to serve the Commissioners (from our Rules of Procedure) “It shall be the policy of this Commission that, as far as practicable, all issues considered by the Commission shall first be referred to either a Standing or Special Committee, as appropriate. Such Committee shall review the issue, hear presentations from parties involved in the issue, and make recommendations on how to deal with the issue to the full Commission.”
Given the intent of committees, some Commissioner’s welcome the input of committees and see them as valuable, some Commissioners see them as in conflict with and usurping a Commissioner’s responsibilities.
Relatedly, how the Commission handles the committees input has been a source of continued frustration for all and there have been frequent heated discussions in our planning meetings with minimal resolution.
Further, whether Commissioners should serve on committees is another topic that has been particularly divisive.
The topic of committees has repeatedly come up in our planning meetings (we meet in executive session to set the agenda for the monthly meeting) since I’ve been on the Commission. After repeated over heated discussions where we make no progress or decisions on the above issues, it’s fair to say that all Commissioners want this issue resolved (myself included).
However, there is a procedure for amending the Rules of Procedure (which is a Commissioner writes a resolution showing amendments to the By Laws and Rules of Procedure language and we discuss it in a public meeting. No one has done this. We keep having fruitless after fruitless “discussions” where we disagree and make no forward motion.
This has been frustrating; in particular for Commissioner Jones. In our January planning meeting we had two longstanding hot button community topics come in front of the Commission (Met Branch Trail and Takoma Theater) and we did not move forward discussions about the committees. Commissioner Jones took grave issue with this. Commissioner Parks demanded that the tape recorder be stopped so that Commissioner Jones could speak off the record. Commissioner Jones then began a 20 minute heated monologue about the committees and how we don’t discuss them and then her complaints segued into item #3.
Item #3: Request a formal audit by the Office of ANCs and the Auditor of ANC 4B’s financial position and minutes for the past 4 years. And/Or request an investigation into the financial position of the ANC 4B Commission.
BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT: According to Jim Irwin, ANC 4B’s office staff, our financial records are filed and we are fully up to date. Also, as Talib-Din Uqdah noted, any Commissioner can ask for an audit. A special meeting is not necessary. What’s important to me for my constituents is that the ANC’s financial house is in order. If we’re audited, we’re ready for it. That being said, why is this coming up now??
WHERE THIS IS COMING FROM: This stems from an issue that precedes my time as Commissioner. Below is my understanding of the issue from core people involved. I have done my best to do my homework and present the issue faithfully. However, I could be in error on some points…please allow me some leeway.
In 2016, ANC 4B Commissioners held a community party for all constituents in front of the businesses 4th Street. There are extreme controls on funds that the ANC can use. The Commissioners who had this event worked with the ANC Executive staff and the DC auditor to find appropriate sources of funds for the tent rental, entertainment, etc. Everything was done by the book.
Commissioner Jones objected vociferously to the event. She believed that there was impropriety in the obtaining of funds, even though many spoke to her about it including the ANC executive staff. At the time, Commissioner. Jones was Secretary of the ANC. Ultimately, she refused to sign the financial reports that the ANC must submit to the District for the quarter covering the event for months. Because she refused to sign, the ANC was not receiving its allotment of funds. Without our allotment, we cannot pay our bills. The other Commissioners, in accordance with the ANC’s rules, held a special meeting and voted to remove Commissioner. Jones from the position of Secretary.
In April 2016, Commissioner Jones sued Chair Ron Austin, All ANC Commissioners, and Jim Irwin for libel, slander, defamation of character, coercion and harassment. (2016 CA 2576 B in DC Superior Court)
In August, 2016 Commissioner Jones sued Chair Ron Austin for abuse of process (2016 CA 006009B in DC Superior Court)
She represented herself in both cases, and there was protracted drama. In one, the defendants weren’t properly served. In another she failed to appear or provide what the judge asked of her, repeatedly asked for more time, …etc. Both of the cases were dismissed after a few months; Commissioner Jones reopened both of them.
Judge Campbell in his decision stated, “Plaintiff has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted” including stating that there was no malicious intent, failure to provide supporting documentation, and “never identifying which allegations give rise to such claims”, etc. Case was dismissed.
Judge Di Toro’s decision stated that the ANC process was dutifully followed so there was no basis for a claim. She further stated that Commissioner. Jones “failed to state a claim for defamation” and “fails to allege a factual basis for her claims (for harassment or coercion)”. Case was dismissed.
Now Commissioner Jones is asking for an audit.
(**NOTE: I’ve quoted above from the Judges decisions which are public documents. The list serve does not take attachments, or I would’ve attached them. I’m happy to share the judge’s decisions with people directly, just email me. You can also go to DCCourts.gov and search the Superior Court records for the case files for these records 2016 CA 2576 B and 2016 CA 006009B or do a name search for Judi Jones.)
I’ve tried to be factual. However, my opinion is that the majority of the Commissioners signed onto this meeting care about the committee issue. They want a change in leadership to get this issue dealt with to their satisfaction. This may mean the committees are abandoned.
With respect to the financial issue Commissioner. Jones raises; she’s brought multiple unsupported claims to the courts system because she disagrees with funding for a community event that was held over 3 years ago. Even when the court cases were dismissed, she reopened them; she routinely brings this issue up again and again in our planning meetings and now she’s called a special meeting to revisit this issue in another venue.
Ultimately, people elect representatives based on what they know about them. I thought people should be informed about the reason for this meeting and the actions of their representatives so that you can make informed decisions.
Feel free to ask any questions,
Commissioner Tanya Topolewski ANC 4B02
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the beginning of Commissioner Topolewski’s response to the February 26th ANC 4B meeting.]
Apologies for being silent, but I’ve been travelling for the two weeks and I’m playing catch up.
I’m going to update you on the following meetings:
- ANC4B Special Meeting (Feb 14)
- Monday’s regular ANC4B meeting (Feb 26th)
Special Meeting summary: As I was not at the Special Meeting, I am quoting former Commissioner Sara Green who did attend and provided a summary on ~Feb 16 to the Takoma Listserv. According to Sara’s email: the meeting lasted about eight minutes, it was Chaired by Commissioner Judi Jones 4B07. Public comment was not permitted. All votes were unanimous.
Commissioners who attended the Special Meeting: Judi Jones 4B07, Natalee Snider 4B06, Yolanda Hughes 4B05, Secretary Brenda Parks 4B04, Treasurer Tischa Cockrell 4B09
Special Meeting Agenda ITEM #1: Did the Commissioners at the Special Meeting elect officers? NO
Five Commissioners were present, a quorum, but six Commissioners are needed for an election of officers according to 4B Bylaws, so no election was held. Update from Monday’s Regular February Meeting is below.
Special Meeting Agenda ITEM #2: Did the Commissioners present vote to suspend all committees? YES
Is this vote valid? NO
In advance of this special meeting Chair Andre Carley 4B01 asked the Attorney General if a vote would be valid. OAG’s answer is no. Read the full OAG response at ANC4B.org. In a nutshell, the OAG cited our Bylaws and Rules and Regulations which state that this action requires 30 days notice.
It is unclear whether Commissioner Jones and company read the bylaws. If they had, they would have realized that this vote may not be valid.
Also, according to former Commissioner Sara Green who attended the meeting and is the Chair of the Design Review Committee, Commissioner Jones stated falsehoods about committees. In particular, she erroneously stated Committees should be submitting a report, not draft resolutions. However, Commissioner Jones is in error. ANC 4B Commission Rules of Procedure require Committee submissions in the form of draft resolutions.
The procedure for changing the By Laws and Rules of Procedure is clear. You write a resolution with the proposed change. It gets discussed in a public meeting with 30 days’ notice and we take a vote. To date, no Commissioner has followed the procedure to change our Rules.
THE COMMITTEE ISSUE WAS NOT ADDRESSED AT MONDAY’S ANC MEETING
Special Meeting Agenda ITEM #3: Did the Commissioners present vote to ask for an audit of Commission funds? YES
As was stated in my prior email, Commissioner. Jones is the driving force behind this particular issue…it relates to a three-year-old issue that bothers her so much that sued the entire ANC4B commission on in two separate lawsuits. (Please see my detailed explanation in my listsev posting on Feb 14 or ask me to send it to you.) However, the DC Regulations state that a vote was not needed for this action.
Other important item of note from the Special Meeting: Commissioner Hughes’ residency is challenged by her constituents
This is important because if Commissioner Hughes has moved out of 4B05, she will no longer be Commissioner, effective immediately. Chair Carley has followed her constituents challenge up with a letter to Commissioner. Hughes asking for proof of residency. This issue will hopefully be resolved at the March 10th Board of Elections meeting.
UPDATE FROM TONITE’S [February 26th) REGULAR FEBRUARY ANC MEETING:
Election vote was blocked again
Chair Carley asked for a delay in the Vote for Officers until Commissioner Hughes verifies her residency (or not). Other Commissioners voted in favor of having the elections. Chair Carley, Commissioner Knickerbocker and myself got up and walked out (Commissioner Rogers was not in attendance yet.) That left only 5 Commissioners (a quorum, so the remaining Commissioners could still continue all Commission business) but not the 6 Commissioners required for Officer elections.
My resolution to request funding for design of the next (and last!) phase of the MBT was not heard.
I placed a resolution on the agenda for discussion for ANC 4B to ask for funding for the final leg of the MBT to be placed in DC’s 2019 budget. Because I was not there, this resolution did not see the light of day.
MY TAKE ON SOME OF THE ABOVE
Commissioner Judi Jones ran a special meeting with no public input. That is directly in violation of 4B’s By Laws and Rules of Procedure…moreover, it does the community a grave disservice. Public input is what public meetings are for…if you have a public meeting without it, it’s fundamentally a closed meeting where decisions are made without dialogue and discourse. That’s wrong for the entire community.
Commissioner Jones and company refuse to follow the rules to resolve the issues of committees and the Commission. It would be welcome if one of these Commissioners followed the stated rules to change our Rules of Procedure and brought real discussion to our constituents about the Commissions difficulties with committees. However, apparently these Commissioners either don’t care what the rules are and want to make their own rules or they just want the committees to cease operation in their entirety. Either way, the community is not being served well by an invalidated special meeting vote.
Commissioner Hughes residency is a fundamental issue that needs to be resolved. It’s important to me that: a) people know constituents are questioning Commissioner. Hughes residency and b) that she did not respond to questions about it at the Special Meeting and c) to the best of my knowledge, she did not address it after the fact with her constituents. In my opinion, Commissioner Hughes should have immediately stepped up and answered her constituents questions with proof. That she did not address this most fundamental question gives me great pause about her motivations for being Commissioner.
Two reasons why I walked out on Monday’s meeting:
- A Commissioner’s constituents have a right to question that Commissioner’s residency, so do the rest of the ANC Commissioners. This residency question will be resolved at the March DC Board of Elections meeting in March. Since we could walk out with no impact to the functioning of Monday’s Committee meeting I thought it was worth putting the elections on pause for a month.
- Also, if Commissioner. Hughes is invalidated, then it is likely Commissioner. Jones will not have enough votes to become Chair. Commissioner. Jones has proven herself to me multiple times over as unfit to be Chair. So much so, that walking out to block the vote for a month was an easy decision for me.
Lastly, Commissioner Parks…As we walked out Commissioner Parks repeated question to us was “What are you trying to hide?” To which both Andre and I responded…nothing. It was clearly stated that we wanted the vote to occur after Commissioner Hughes residency issue is resolved. Given there was a tie for chair, it’s obvious that if Commissioner Hughes steps down that that could block Commissioner Jones from becoming Chair. No one is hiding that fact.
Questions about this drama (and oh, what drama it is!)? Please reach out. I’ll do my best to answer with facts.
Commissioner Tanya Topolewski ANC 4B02
Tanya Topolewski MLA, MSRED
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for ANC 4B02
Have an issue? Email is fastest…but you can also call me at 202-621-0180