FOIA Lawsuit Against D.C. Over ANC 2F Actions

Today I issued the following press release:


 

Contact: Matt Raymond, 202-744-1921, matt@mattraymond.com

Frivolous Lawsuit Against D.C., Logan Circle’s ANC a Product of Misguided Crusade Against Immigrant Small Businessman

 Please note: Any opinions expressed below are those of Chairman Raymond only, except insofar as formal positions and votes of ANC 2F are recounted.

(Washington, D.C.)—A lawsuit filed yesterday in Superior Court (James Kane v. DC, 14-3386 [422992]) against the District of Columbia regarding actions of Logan Circle’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F is rife with demonstrable falsehoods and could have far-reaching negative impacts on the ANC and an upstanding local businessman.

The complaint (http://wp.me/a22M8Q-x4) centers on the ANC’s efforts to comply with a Freedom of Information request filed by James Kane, now the plaintiff, who sought communications about the ANC’s dealings regarding Logan Circle’s Ghana Café between April 1, 2013, and April 23, 2014.  An initial search revealed at least 500 emails plus several other documents directly related to Ghana Café.

However, the FOIA request went far beyond the one business, asking for every communication over a period of more than one year related to broad terms such as the city’s ABRA liquor license enforcement agency, the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, such commonly used terms in liquor license matters as “settlement agreement” or “voluntary agreement,” and even the exceptionally broad term “resolution.”

When ANC 2F Chairman Matt Raymond began the broader search, he found that there were literally thousands of potentially responsive documents (the bulk of which being emails). He communicated this fact to Kane’s attorney and suggested narrowing the search to Ghana Café, citing the unreasonable amount of time the search and document production would entail, plus the fact that ANC commissioners are volunteer, unpaid officials, most of whom have day jobs. D.C. law requires only eight hours of personnel time related to document reformatting, which would be exceeded by an order of magnitude in accounting for thousands of documents.

ABRA and the ABC Board are the D.C. agencies that constitute the lion’s share of ANC activities, and Ghana Café is but one of numerous liquor licensees the ANC dealt with in 2013 when residential development and dining establishments boomed in Logan Circle. ANC 2F has a total annual budget of $18,770 and is able to employ only part-time staff to assist with routine matters such as preparing agendas and taking minutes.

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

“To call this a fishing expedition would be an understatement,” Raymond said. “It’s more akin to Captain Ahab’s brash pursuit of Moby Dick. The extreme nature of the FOIA request and this lawsuit speak to the plaintiff’s intemperate efforts to bring harm to Ghana Café, as well as to greatly hinder the ability of ANC 2F to represent the needs of Logan Circle residents.”

One year ago, Ghana Café owner Tony Opare, a Ghanaian immigrant, approached the ANC in hopes of easing restrictions on his liquor license that put him at a competitive disadvantage with nearby businesses. The ANC reached out to Kane and surrounding neighbors who along with ANC 2F were also a party to Ghana Café’s settlement agreement, which places additional conditions on a licensee than normal regulations. When Opare’s application for live music on weekends was denied by the ABC Board, giving neighbors little incentive to continue negotiations, they became nonresponsive to the ANC.

In March 2014, frustrated by the bad-faith negotiations and sympathetic to Opare’s plight, the ANC voted to withdraw from the existing settlement agreement and enter into a new one with Ghana Café, placing it on more equal footing with competitors.

Neighbors had valid concerns about a number of health violations, but Opare rectified them quickly and then had a record on par with other establishments in the neighborhood. The neighbors also alleged numerous violations of Ghana Café’s license and settlement agreement. However, ABRA notes only a single minor infraction in Ghana Café’s history, related to paperwork.

The ANC in recent years has been responsive to the concerns of Kane and his neighbors—e.g., successfully opposing a 2011 Ghana Café application for outdoor seating. In addition, the ANC voted last year to oppose live music before later switching course and voting this year to ease restrictions after deeming the continued opposition to Opare unreasonable.

“Mr. Opare has been held hostage for a year by a small group of surrounding residents, to the detriment of his business and patrons,” Raymond said. “The vehemence with which they have pursued their crusade is disproportionate, if not discriminatory, compared to their dealings with similarly situated restaurants. Ghana Café is not the bad actor those few neighbors would have us believe.

“A likely outcome of their intransigence would be to force the closure of a business owned by a man who was living the American Dream.”

Kane’s lawsuit makes several demonstrably false claims about ANC 2F’s handling of the FOIA request:

 Allegation: “On information and belief, as of May 29, 2014, ANC 2F did not submit a request to [the Office of the Chief Technology Officer, or OCTO] to search ANC 2F’s government-hosted email accounts for emails responsive to Mr. Kane’s FOIA request.”

 Fact: At the request of ANC 2F, D.C.’s Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions made a formal request on May 27 that OCTO do a search of government-hosted emails, which was listed as “in progress” when the lawsuit was filed—a fact the plaintiff could have found out with a simple call or email to ANC 2F.

Allegation: “On information and belief, as of May 29, 2014, none of the non-government hosted email accounts used by ANC 2F Commissioners was searched for emails responsive to Mr. Kane’s FOIA request.”

 Fact: As previously mentioned, all emails and documents potentially responsive to the Ghana Café issue were searched and segregated, numbering more than 500. Raymond also commenced a good-faith search of the other overly broad terms in the FOIA request. While an exact number was not determined, it without question would have been in the thousands, constituting an undue and unlawful burden on the ANC. Again, this is a fact the plaintiff could have found out with a simple call or email to ANC 2F.

 Ironically, the plaintiff’s filing, in quoting Raymond’s emails, contradicts its own claim.

 Allegation: “On information and belief, as of May 29, 2014, ANC 2F did not search for nonemail documents that are responsive to Mr. Kane’s FOIA request.”

 Fact:  Reviews conducted by ANC 2F included non-email documents, all of which were being segregated and held as potentially responsive—another fact the plaintiff could have found out with a simple call or email to ANC 2F.

 The complaint’s contention in “Count One” that the District therefore violated the FOIA law for its supposed failures to search is also false.

The filing further complains that ANC 2F failed to produce a “Vaughn index,” which essentially is a detailed, item-by-item spreadsheet listing all potentially responsive communications and determinations whether each could be considered privileged under the law and court precedent. Producing such an index for the request as submitted would have required untold hours of work by a small army of administrative personnel, easily exhausting ANC 2F’s $18,770 budget.

If the plaintiff’s hope was that the ANC would choose the path of least resistance and turn over, wholesale, thousands of documents without proper review and due diligence regarding potentially privileged information, such as that which would result in invasions of privacy or damage a business’s competitive position, it then would have exposed the District to additional liability for the illegal release of such information. In addition, “capricious and arbitrary” responses to FOIA requests potentially expose government officials to criminal liability.

While the law permits the filing of FOIA-related lawsuits, it also offers an administrative appeals process via the Office of the Mayor, which would have lasted no more than 10 days. If an appellant disagreed with the outcome, he still would have the option to file a civil claim. In bypassing a speedy appeal, the plaintiff could drag out the matter until at least Sept. 12, the date the court set for an initial conference regarding the lawsuit.

“If Mr. Kane and his attorney were truly interested in the information they are seeking, they would have pursued the expedited administrative appeals process rather than delaying the matter for months and incurring substantial attorney’s fees, for which D.C. taxpayers would be on the hook if the District lost in court,” Raymond said.

“Moreover, simple and cordial discussions might have resolved the situation instead of tying up the courts.

“Logan Circle residents and all D.C. citizens should be outraged at this treatment of a well-meaning small businessmen, this flagrant abuse of the legal process, and the potential damage inflicted on hard-working, volunteer representatives attempting to do the work of the people.”

 # # #

 ANC 2F represents part or all of several D.C. neighborhoods including Logan Circle, Thomas Circle, Old City, Blagden Alley/Naylor Court, Franklin Square, and parts of Shaw and Downtown. ANC 2F comprises eight Single Member Districts and therefore has eight commissioners. Its website is located at http://anc2f.org/.

 

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ANC 2F Meeting Agenda for August 7, 2013

ADVISORY NEIGHBORHOOD COMMISSION 2F
REGULAR MONTHLY PUBLIC
MEETING

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 – 7:00 PM

WASHINGTON PLAZA HOTEL—10 THOMAS CIRCLE, NW

AGENDA

COMMUNITY FORUM

 

Call to Order  

7:00

Commissioner Announcements  

7:00

Report from Executive Office of the Mayor   

7:05

Report from Office of Jack Evans, City Council Member, Ward 2  

7:10

Report from Metropolitan Police Department, Police Service Area 307  

7:15

Community Announcements  

7:20 

— 5-Minute Recess — 

BUSINESS MEETING

Approval of Agenda  

7:30

Approval of Minutes, Meeting of July 10, 2013  

7:30

Confirmation of New Executive Director  

7:35

ABRA Policy Committee Report (Commissioner John Fanning, Chairperson)

  • 1336 14th Street, NW – Ghana Café, ABRA #082751, request for support for entertainment endorsement
  • 1610 14th Street, NW – Ghibellina, ABRA #088785, request for support for substantial change in operation (12-seat sidewalk café, hours of operation, and entertainment endorsement). Petition date: Aug. 26.
 

7:40

Education Committee Report (Commissioner Matt Connolly and Evelyn Boyd Simmons, Co-Chairpersons)  

7:55

Crime and Public Safety Committee Report (Commissioner Chris Linn, Chairperson)  

8:00

Community Development Committee Report (Commissioner Walt Cain, Chairperson)

 

8:10

Old Business  

8:30

New Business

  • ABRA: 1209-1213 10th Street, NW – The American, ABRA #092766, new license application. Petition date: Sept. 9.
  • DDOT-Public Space Committee: Proposed closing of a public alley in Square 368 (ANC Single Member District 2F-06)
 

8:30

Treasurer’s Report (Commissioner Matt Connolly, Acting Treasurer)

  • Update
  • Adoption of quarterly report, FY 2013-Q3 (April – June 2013)
  • Approval of expenditures
 

8:50

Adjournment  

9:00

NOTICE:  The agenda attached to this notice of meeting is provided by ANC 2F in advance of its public meetings and contains matters that are expected to come before the meeting.  It is, however, subject to formal adoption by the ANC at the meeting, which may result in additions or deletions to the draft.   Individuals who may have official business before the ANC or persons with interests in specific matters are advised to contact the Executive Director or a Commissioner in advance of the meeting. See www.ANC2F.org for contact information.

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ANC 2F Crime and Public Safety and CDC Committee Meetings – July 24, 2013

ADVISORY NEIGHBORHOOD COMMISSION 2F

CRIME AND PUBLIC SAFETY COMMITTEE MEETING

Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 7:00 PM

Washington Plaza Hotel

10 Thomas Circle, NW

 

  1. Crime Statistics & Trends
  2. Open Forum
  3. National Night Out – Tuesday, Aug 6th
  4. Update on District of Columbia vs. James E. Wade (2013 CF3 009783) – The Pizzolis Armed Robber
  5. Planning for Fall Crime Awareness/Safety Event

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE MEETING

Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 7:00 PM

The Washington Plaza Hotel

# 10 Thomas Circle, NW

  1. Meeting Agenda
  1. Approval of Agenda
  2. 1322 and 1320 9th Street, NW-HPRB Informational Presentation
  3. 1324 14th Street, NW-Presentation for Support for Valet Parking
  4. Consideration of Parking Recommendations

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Community Development Committee (CDC) ANC2F Parking Recommendations

Parking Meter Image

The ANC2F Parking Proposals were adopted by the Community Development Committee at its June meeting and will be discussed at the August 7, 2013 ANC meeting at 7pm at Washington Plaza Hotel.

The recommendations are available for review prior to the meeting at http://www.anc2f.org/files/cdc/2013_cdc_parking_proposals.pdf

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ANC 2F Seeks New Executive Director

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2F is seeking a new Executive Director. The Executive Director is a part-time, salaried staff position with the ANC. The Executive Director serves as our chief administrator, assisting with our public meetings, agendas, minutes, letters, and outreach.

We anticipate the position will require 20-25 hours of work per month. Salary is negotiable based on experience.

To apply: please contact ANC Commissioners Matt Raymond (matt@mattraymond.com) and Matt Connolly (Connolly.Matthew@gmail.com) and provide a resume. We will accept applications on a rolling basis until the position is filled. Feel free to contact us if you have recommendations or questions.

Please also pass this announcement along to other lists and groups who may know of interested and qualified candidates.

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Crime and Public Safety Meeting Agenda for 5/22/13

ADVISORY NEIGHBORHOOD COMMISSION 2F

CRIME AND PUBLIC SAFETY COMMITTEE MEETING

Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 7:00 PM

Washington Plaza Hotel

10 Thomas Circle, NW

 

 

  1. Crime Statistics & Trends
  2. Open Forum
  3. Review Community Crime Awareness Event/Outreach
  4. Community Impact Statement for U.S. v Deangelo Providence
  5. 911 Call Response Times
  6. Discussion of draft “Resolution in Support of the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013 and Further Pedestrian and Bike Safety Improvements”

Crime Statistics and the draft resolution can be downloaded at: CPSC Agenda_20130522

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ANC 2F Supports Modernizing Garrison Elementary

We in ANC 2F believe that strong public schools are the foundation of a vibrant community.  In support of that goal, we passed the following resolution at our May meeting calling on the Mayor and City Council to modernize Garrison Elementary School in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget.  The text of the resolution is below:

Preamble

Whereas:

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) were created to “advise the Council of the District of Columbia, the Mayor and each executive agency . . . with respect to all proposed matters of District government policy,” including with respect to education;[1]

Garrison Elementary School is within the boundaries of ANC 2F, and DCPS designates many families in our ANC to Garrison as their school of right;

The Logan Circle Community has worked to make our neighborhood a place where families want to stay and raise their children, and Garrison, as an important part of developing a strong feeder system, is essential to that goal;

In the past three years, parents have re-established a PTA, developed strong partnerships with local community organizations, reached out to prospective parents, and worked with DCPS to improve the school;

The PTA and community have greatly improved maintenance services at the school and grounds through constant vigilance, volunteer efforts, and consistent advocacy;

The Logan Circle neighborhood has seen significant population increases over the last several years, and DCPS projects the neighborhood will increase by at least 125 children by 2015.[2]  Indeed, the population of 3 to 11 year olds in the area immediately surrounding Garrison will nearly double by 2017, and grow by another third by 2022;[3]

Retaining these current and anticipated families is essential to our community’s continued growth and stability;

Garrison is in desperate need of capital investment.  As recognized in the 2010 Master Facilities Plan:

  • “Many interior spaces are in need of renovations”;
  • “Ceiling finishes are in poor condition.  Asbestos tile is present throughout and needs to be removed”;
  • “Public address and fire alarm systems are antiquated and require replacement”;
  • [Plumbing] Fixtures are outdated and should be replaced;
  • “Wooden exterior doors need to be replaced and all exterior windows have deteriorated and need to be replaced”;
  • ADA compliance is “unsatisfactory” and the building “needs numerous upgrades in order to accomplish [compliance]”;

The school has not undergone a single renovation since it opened in 1964;

Garrison has an educational facilities effectiveness (EFEI) score of 36 percent according to the 2013 Master Facilities Plan—one of the lowest in the District[4]—and is one of the only public schools in the area (DCPS or charter) that has not been partially or fully modernized;

The Master Facilities Plan recommends complete, rather than phased-in, school modernizations;[5]

Professional pro bono services and non-DCPS funds have been secured to defray the costs of modernization, and the PTA and community stand ready to further assist;

The modernization at Garrison has been delayed three times in the last three years, and the Mayor’s current proposed budget anticipates starting the renovation in 2015, with completion in 2022—9 years away;[6] and

Capital investment in Garrison has been too often postponed and is long overdue.  To meet population growth in Logan Circle are and to ensure the diversity, vitality and coherence of the community, we urgently need our community school Garrison modernized.

Resolution

Therefore, be it resolved that

ANC 2F advises and strongly recommends that the City Council appropriate $16 million to fully fund Garrison’s modernization in Fiscal Year 2014 to allow for a complete, one-time modernization.


[1] D.C. Code § 1-309.10(a).

[2] See DCPS Proposed Consolidations and Reorganization at p. 33 (Nov. 15, 2012), available at

http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/Parents+and+Community/DCPS+Proposed+Consolidations+and+Reorganization/Full+Proposal.

[3] 2013 Public Education Master Facilities Plan at p. 55, available at http://dc.gov/DC/DME/Media%20Releases/newsroom_archive/Press%20Releases/Final%202013%20DC%20Public%20Education%20Plan.pdf.

[4] Id. at 87, Figure 5.30.

[5] Master Facilities Plan at p. 120.

[6] The total proposed modernization budget of Garrison is $16.2 million: $8.1 mm to be spent in 2015, $6.1 mm in 2019, and $2 million by 2022.

 

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Joint Education Meeting with DME Abigail Smith–Sat. May 11

Please join ANC 2F, ANC 2B, the Logan Circle Community Association (LCCA), and the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) for a special joint meeting on Education on Saturday, May 11 from 9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. at Luther Place Memorial Church, 1226 Vermont Avenue, NW (Thomas Circle).

We are excited to have Abigail Smith, the Acting Deputy Mayor for Education, join us.  The Deputy Mayor is responsible for overseeing the District’s education strategy and DC’s education-related agencies, including DC Public Schools (DCPS) and the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE).

We will also have updates on important ANC, LCCA, and DCCA community news and activities.

Come out and meet your elected representatives and education officials, learn about issues that impact your community, and get to know your neighbors better.  LCCA and DCCA have graciously agreed to provide refreshments and free childcare on site, so kids are welcome!

We hope to see you Saturday!

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Now Is the Time to Modernize Garrison Elementary

This morning parents, community members, and I urged the City Council’s Education Committee to finally fully modernize Garrison Elementary.  These improvements are long overdue.  Garrison has not been renovated since it opened in the 1960s, and modernization has been delayed at least three times.  DCPS’s proposal to finish improvements by 2022 is simply inadequate.  My testimony is below:

Councilmember Catania, I want to thank you again for speaking at the ANC’s education committee meeting last month.  As you probably remember, our conversation focused on bringing a sense of urgency to public education reform, and the understanding that parents and community members shouldn’t have to work this hard to get a quality public education.

It is with both of these issues in mind that I am here today to request that the City Council fully fund the modernization of Garrison Elementary School in FY 2015.[1]  Garrison has not been renovated since it opened in the 1960s, and the school’s modernization has now been delayed at least three times.  As recognized in the 2013 Public Education Master Facilities Plan issued by the Deputy Mayor for Education, “[f]acility condition and quality affect the safety and comfort of students and educators and can limit programming.  They may also influence parent and student perception about school quality.”[2]  This is especially true in my ANC and at Garrison.

According to the Master Facilities Plan, the population of 3 to 11 year olds in the area immediately surrounding Garrison will nearly double by 2017, and grow by another third by 2022.[3]  Despite this population growth, the Facilities Plan determined that our cluster receives among the fewest dollars per enrolled student, our facilities condition ranks among the lowest in the District, and it is among the clusters with the greatest need for strategic investment.[4]  These already poor numbers are even worse at Garrison, which has an educational facilities effectiveness (EFEI) score of 36 percent—one of the lowest in the District.[5]  In fact, Garrison is one of the only public schools in our cluster (DCPS or charter) that has not been partially or fully modernized.

We believe retaining families is essential to our community’s continued growth and stability and we are working hard to make sure that Garrison is a school we in Logan Circle and the District can all be proud of.  But Garrison needs capital investment in order to thrive.  Prospective parents will not invest in a school if DCPS is unwilling to invest with them.  Failing to invest in Garrison now could mean that we and DCPS will miss out on our neighborhood’s booming population of elementary aged school children.  Parents demand urgency:  They will not wait and see what happens in 2022, when the current modernization proposal is expected to be completed (likely even longer given the trend in the last four years).  By then these parents will have moved to a different neighborhood, out of the district, or will have found another school.

We are not asking for a brand new building or gold-plated facilities.  All we ask is for some urgent maintenance work on a school that hasn’t been renovated since the 1960s, and a commitment to start a modernization that will allow current and prospective parents to invest in a vision for their neighborhood school.  We believe these commitments, along with the demolition of the old pool house and athletic field improvements (which we expect to begin this summer), will show the community that the City and DCPS will engage with Garrison the way parents and community members already have.


[1] As a complete modernization according to the strategy recommendations in the 2013 Public Education Master Facilities Plan, and not a phased modernization.

[2] 2013 Public Education Master Facilities Plan at p. 30, available at http://dc.gov/DC/DME/Media%20Releases/newsroom_archive/Press%20Releases/Final%202013%20DC%20Public%20Education%20Plan.pdf.

[3] Id. at p. 55, Figure 4.7 (For Cluster 7—Shaw and Logan Circle).

[4] Id. at pp. 80, 84, and 115, Figures 5.23, 5.27, and 7.1.

[5] Id. at 87, Figure 5.30.

 

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ANC 2F and MPD Host Crime Awareness Event This Sunday

Community awareness about crime is one of several factors that can keep the crime rate low in our neighborhood. Therefore, ANC 2F and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) are teaming up to host a Neighborhood Crime Awareness Meet-and-Greet outside Whole Foods on Sunday April 14th from 1-2:30 p.m. to share information and tips to avoid becoming a crime victim. Representatives from MPD and the ANC 2F Crime and Public Safety Committee will be on-hand to answer the community’s questions about neighborhood crime.

Typically, crime increases during warmer months as more people get out to enjoy our vibrant neighborhood. Now that warmer weather is finally here, now is the time to learn how to prevent crime and avoid being a crime victim! Property crime increased in ANC 2F in summer 2012 compared to summer 2011, driven by thefts and thefts from autos. While winter 2013 saw crime drop pretty dramatically, with your help raising our community’s awareness we can keep that trend growing this summer.

Stop by and learn how you can protect yourself and make our neighborhood safer this Sunday. ANC 2F will follow-up this event with a week of crime and safety tips on our Facebook and Twitter account – so friend and follow us today!

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