When Home Rule formally became the governing instrument for the District government in 1974, one of its creations was the advisory neighborhood commissions. This body was set on the neighborhood level, below the D.C. Council, to address the concerns of residents. The advisory neighborhood commissions are a unique District institution with no other major city having anything else like it.
The commissions, known informally as ANCs, have several single-member districts represented by an elected commissioner. Commissioners serve two-year terms, represent about 2,000 residents, and receive no salary, but their commissions do get funds from the District government for the general purpose of improving their area and hiring staff. The initial idea behind not offering compensation to commissioners had to do with the part-time nature of the job and to stress civic participation and volunteerism in the neighborhoods.
However, for many years, commissioners have complained about the lack of compensation. Many have said they dip into their personal funds to pay for supplies or services to do their jobs. Some have said no wages prevent many qualified residents from running for commissioner because they cannot take on a demanding volunteer position. Still, others say the unpaid position creates opportunities for petty corruption where unscrupulous commissioners feel the need to get paid “under the table” for their support for projects and initiatives.
The time has come for commissioners to receive compensation. The District is in a good enough financial position to pay the nearly 300 commissioners a stipend. The years of balanced budgets and projected quarterly surpluses has generated enough financial confidence in city leaders that this bold step can take place. A stipend would incentivize commissioners to continue working in their neighborhoods without the underlying fear of being taken advantage of. Residents interested in running for commissioner can do so with the knowledge that they will be compensated if they win.
The D.C. Council should pass a bill supporting commissioner compensation and Mayor Muriel Bowser, a former commissioner, should support it. Commissions fall under the jurisdiction of Council member Robert White (D-At Large), who chairs the Committee on Housing, and his office should be contacted at 202-727-8270 and told to sponsor or support legislation creating a stipend for commissioners.