City Paper Widget

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I am Asked to Leave a Meeting of the Dupont Circle Conservancy for Blogging

Minutes after I arrived last night, January 14, I was denied permission to observe a meeting of the Dupont Circle Conservancy (DCC). The reason given was that I am a blogger. I left the meeting as requested, without argument.

A representative of the DCC approached me a short time after I arrived and told me the meeting was not open to me. I protested that I was an interested member of the public. The representative told me I was a blogger and I could not attend the meeting. It seemed clear that further objecting would not do any good, so I left.

I have previously attended two meetings of the DCC. The first meeting I attended was on October 8, 2013. I openly took notes. Based on these notes, I published the SALM blog post of October 15 about the proposed development of the single-family home at 1618 Q Street NW.

In November, I again attended a meeting of the DCC. At that time, the same representative as above approached me and asked me what my interest was. I told him that I wrote a blog. The representative said interested members of the public were welcome but he did not want me to write about meeting. I agreed to make no notes and write nothing about the meeting. I was allowed to observe the entire meeting. There is no blog post about the November meeting.

On its web site, the DCC describes itself as "an all volunteer membership-based non-profit 501c(3) educational organization". I am not a lawyer and I don't know what rights and obligations this status gives them. Particularly, I do not know if they have an obligation to have open meetings and/or are allowed to limit the purpose or behavior of people who attend.

This is the first community organization that I have been asked me to leave. I have previously attended meetings of two other local community organizations (the Dupont Circle Citizens Association and the Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance), and even published articles based on what I saw and heard at these meetings, without interference.

I was at the last night's meeting long enough to notice that it was also attended Commissioner Abigail Nichols, representative for district 05 on Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont. Nichols was just winding up a short presentation to the DCC when I arrived.

I also saw other presenters waiting at last night's meeting to appear before the DCC. These presenters have previously appeared before ANC2B and its committees, and I have written about their projects on this blog. The properties in question are 1618 Q Street and 1528 Church Street.


  1. Tax status has little to do if the meeting is open or not. If the meeting is on their property they can limit who comes in. There is a section of Shaw that has a semi-recent history of closing "public" meetings to citizen activists. When the meetings take place were the org (or people in the org) can ask the property owner to bar entry, they have called the cops to enforce it. This is only a problem when the org is an ANC and the decisions have some legal standing. If there are no public officials and there is nothing that's binding that was required to be 'public', and it's not a clandestine ANC or the like meeting they are fine. But if there were decisions being made or if the org presents whatever that came from the meeting to the HPRB as "public" then there is a problem.

  2. Thank you for this informative comment. The DCC meeting took place at a parish hall of a church on 16th Street. This is probably not their property but the DCC is undoubtedly authorized by the church to use it. With this in mind, I guessed that the DCC had the authority to eject me, which is why I did not argue and exited quickly. The DCC makes recommendations to the HPRB on local development projects. I don't know anything about how the DCC presents their findings to the HPRB, and what degree of "public-ness" they claim. Any ideas about how I can find this information out? Online resources?

    1. Their bylaws note that one of the privileges of membership is being able to attend meetings, suggesting non-members can't. Their website's guidelines for presenters also make the point that once a presentation is done, the presenter must leave the meeting. Sounds like some intentional efforts to operate in private. Tim

  3. I would think that because this organization makes recommendations to the public bodies you may have a case. My guess is whether the public bodies have asked DCC to make recommendations... or whether the public bodies are, in some way, required to take them under advisement. I would contact the city.

  4. Looks from its bylaws that the DCC is a private (though non-profit) organization that can do roughly whatever it wants. From my cursory reading, it makes no particular mention of being open to the public or representing any viewpoint other than its own. I don't see why the fact that it writes letters to HPRB would change that.

    However, it is undoubtedly rude.

  5. Thank you for your interest in the Dupont Circle Conservancy. We do appreciate that you left the meeting when requested. I need to correct some perceptions about the DCC. The DCC is a membership organization with both regular and affiliate (non-voting) members including ANC 2 B members and a few others. Individuals seeking membership must bring qualifications needed by the Conservancy to their role and be voted upon by the members to join. Only paying dues does not grant one membership as with many citizen organizations. We do not meet in public space (homes or donated space as are made available to us), receive no public money, or other government support, and are accorded no higher status by the ANC or HPRB than any other private citizen. Non-members who have opinions/concerns and are related to what is on our then current agenda are welcome to attend/speak, but our meetings are not open to the general public or press in its many forms. When our resolutions are prepared only members may be present. All of the cases DCC considers are discussed at other public meetings. While our deliberations are restricted, our agenda, minutes and resolutions are shared with neighborhood newspapers, appropriate HPO staff, and ANC members. HPRB receives only the resolutions from the HPO representative and are part of the HPRB minutes as DCC makes a presentation to them. If you would like to be added to that e-mail list for information, please let me know.
    Best regards.
    Tom Bower
    President, DCC

  6. Tom -- Sounds shady. If you are proud and unabashed of your work then there should be no reason for the secrecy. Hold your heads up high and be open. There is no rational basis for this secrecy and you give no real reason in your explanation. I hope all parties interested in the issues DCC covers are made abundantly aware of the closed door, secretive nature of the work you do. It is shameful and not how citizen advisory committees should operate in the 21st century. And the saddest thing is I bet most of you and your members are liberal, open-minded intellectuals and don't see the hypocrisy of what you are doing.

  7. Thanks to all commenters. The D.C. Office of Planning (@OPinDC) informs via Twitter that the D.C. Open Meetings Act does not apply to the DCC, a private organization. The DCC are within their rights to accept or not accept guests to their meetings as they wish. Thanks to @OPinDC for checking with the D.C. Office of Open Government on this matter.

  8. I appreciate your work at all the meetings you do attend. Makes no sense to me that you were asked to leave. I find your reporting to be unbiased and informative. I now view the DCC with suspicion,