City Paper Widget

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Logan Circle ANC sued over FOIA Request

A resident of the 1400 block of Rhode Island Avenue has sued the DC government, alleging that Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle has failed to adequately provide documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Detail from the complaint document
Documents (23-page .pdf) filed on June 2 at the Superior Court of The District of Columbia by James Kane allege ANC2F failed to search their records pertaining to the liquor license of the Ghana Cafe (1336 14th Street NW). It asks the court to declare DC in violation of FOIA, to force ANC2F to release the documents (mostly emails), and to order reimbursement of legal costs.

In response, ANC2F Chair Matt Raymond has issued a press release calling the lawsuit "frivolous" and "rife with demonstrable falsehoods".


The FOIA request stems from a pair of votes (see "Old Business", near the end of this web page) by ANC2F in March 2014 in support of Ghana Cafe's request to terminate a 2009 settlement agreement. The 2009 agreement is a multi-sided one, between Ghana Cafe, ANC2F, and neighbors. At the March 2014 meeting, ANC2F voted to enter into a new agreement with the Ghana Cafe, independent of other parties. The new agreement is both more lenient than the existing agreement and similar to agreements signed by their newer neighboring competitors. However, it will not come into effect until 2016, when the older, stricter agreement will sunset

In April 2014, Kane filed a FOIA request, asking for all documents, physical or electronic, that contained the address of the restaurant, the name of the ANC2F liquor-licensing affairs committee, the name of the DC liquor-licensing authority, or the terms "Ghana Cafe", "Settlement Agreement", "resolution", among others, between April 1, 2013, and April 22, 2014.

In his press statement, Raymond says he found "literally thousands" of documents satisfying the criteria. Raymond suggested a narrowing of the criteria due to the many hours it would take to process the documents.

"Neither Kane nor his attorney responded to Raymond’s good-faith offer to comply, instead taking the matter directly to court," Raymond's press statement says.

Kane's court filing quotes a May 14, 2014, letter from Raymond, asking for an extension:
Your request happened to arrive at the same time the expectations and obligations of my day job have been more extreme than at any other time during my tenure here. Multiple projects and events converging within the past couple of weeks necessitated days often lasting 14 to 16 hours.
(ANC Commissioner is a voluntary, unpaid position. Commissioners usually have paying daytime jobs. Raymond's Linked-in profile says he is Senior Director of Communications at International Food Information Council Foundation.)

In a May 29, 2014, letter (also quoted in the court filing), Raymond said "ANC2F is unable to respond to the totality of your request", due to the scope of the request and lack of paid staff. Raymond urges Kane "to resubmit your request with a far greater degree of sufficient particularity".

Lawyer for the plantiff responds

Kane referred a request for comment to his lawyer, Don Padou.

In a phone interview, Padou said the decision to begin legal action now stems from ANC2F's decision to reject the FOIA request in its entirety.

"He could have produced some documents to show that they were operating in good faith," Padou said. "Instead, he just denied the entire FOIA request without producing anything."

Padou was unsympathetic to the claim the FOIA request was excessive.

"If they don't have the resources to comply with the FOIA request, that's not my client's fault," Padou said. "DC government has an ANC office. If the ANCs can't comply with FOIA requests, they should staff their office to make compliance possible."

ANC2F had a regular monthly meeting last night (June 4). ANC Chair Raymond was not present. The lawsuit was not mentioned during the first 90 minutes of the meeting, after which I left.

ANC2F's dealings with Ghana Cafe and its neighbors were the subject of previous SALM blog posts on February 14, 2014, and December 20 and October 10, 2013.


  1. What a shame! I've often thought of serving on my ANC but this makes me think. Ghana Cafe is a great cafe and neighbor. They are not violating any rules. The city needs to implement a fee that busybodies would need to pay for all the needless requests they make of the city agencies and ANCs.

  2. I regret not having been able to attend last night's ANC meeting, but I am on work travel in Des Moines.

    Matt Raymond

  3. So let's get this straight:

    1) Well known neighborhood gadfly makes unreasonably expansive FOIA request
    2) ANC suggests said gadfly focus FOIA request on his actual issue rather than wasting DC taxpayers money and volunteers' time boiling the ocean
    3) Gadfly and his lawyer don't bother to respond
    4) Gadfly and his lawyer claim their request was denied and the ANC wasn't acting in good faith

    Tread carefully neighbors as this could be the next topic that results in reduced participation by neighbors in ABRA decisions. It's ridiculous situations like this that cause people to support eliminating community input.