Joe Barrios, the ANC Commissioner for Single Member District 5B04 (from Monroe Street NE to Rhode Island Ave NE, and from 13th Street NE to the Metro tracks), has stepped down. He let constituents know via the following email:
Dear ANC 5B04 community,
It is with great regret that I inform you that I have made the difficult decision to step down as ANC 5B04 commissioner, effective Friday September 4th. This decision is due to a change in my employment situation that will require more of my time than I’m able to provide while functioning as commissioner. ANC work is a full-time volunteer commitment, and 5B04’s residents deserve someone who can continue providing the necessary time.
I will continue working on Brookland and 5B04 issues with neighbors as a private citizen, as time and career allows.
It has been my privilege and pleasure serving as ANC 5B04 commissioner for my constituents, and I look forward to continuing to work with you in the future.
For many readers following the ins and outs of Single Member Distric 5B04, the recent election was a welcome break from the past. Now it’s time to look ahead to the future of this important section of the neighborhood that includes 12th Street NE commercial corridor from Monroe Street to Rhode Island Ave. Come out and meet your new ANC Commissioner Joe Barrios.
Mr. Duane Johnson, the owner of the M&S Barber Shop, has approached ANC 5B04 candidate Joe Barrios about his concerns on crime and safety in his neighborhood. Mr. Johnson is not the only resident who voiced his concern. In the many conversations with his clients he hears that many of them are worried about crime activities in Brookland. Joe Barrios encouraged Mr. Johnson to host a community meeting and contacted Fifth District Police Commander Dierdre Porter, who in return committed Lt. Durand to be available for a neighborhood meeting. Mr. Johnson generously agreed to offer his Barber Shop at 2900 12th Street for this meeting on October 6 at 7pm. It is wonderful to see Brookland business owners like him to actively engage in community outreach and problem solving. I hope that many residents will take advantage of this opportunity made possible by Mr. Johnson to speak with Lt. Durand of the local police force and share their observations and concern. Also those who have missed the recent police meeting at the Luke C. Moore High School are given another opportunity to share their issues with MPDC.
So, we are a little late in posting this, and many readers have probably already seen this news in other places, but better late than never. Regular Bridge readers will recall that in April we reported that Superior Judge Michael O’Keefe has announced his final ruling in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case that pitted many neighbors against ANC 5B. The judge ruled against ANC5B and at the time it looked like the case would cost tax payers about $60,000. Here is a link to the complete Court Order. Now, the case has finally been settled and the result is that taxpayers are on the hook to pay $58,400 to cover the costs associated with defending Commissioner Steptoe’s actions, which included deleting a recording that was the subject of a FOIA request. Here is outgoing ANC 5B04 Commissioner Steptoe’s email announcement of the settlement:
Sent: Thursday, July 24, 2014 20:09
To: Steptoe, Carolyn C.(ANC 5B04)
Cc: Steptoe, Carolyn C.(ANC 5B04)
Subject: [WardFive] Status Update: Crimmins v. DC
Dear Community —
Followup information re the FOIA lawsuit case (Conor Crimmins v. District of Columbia ), involving ANC 5B, our ANC 5B rec’d update information today that the District has decided to settle the Crimmins case for $57,000, plus the $1,400.00 sanctions awarded against ANC 5B by Judge O’Keefe, for a total of $58,400.
ANC 5B was notified that this settlement will be paid out of the Settlement and Judgments Fund and that, in exchange, each party would withdraw its appeal. ANC 5B was also told that OAG and OSG are in agreement regarding settling this case.
Very kind regards,
Commissioner Carolyn C. Steptoe
Single Member District 5B04
Vice Chairperson, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5B
GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
(202) 321-3860/ANC cell
(pardon typos, etc.)
ANC 5B04 Commissioner Carolyn Steptoe needs no introduction to our regular readers. Here is one of the latest of multiple stories we covered about Ms. Steptoe and our ongoing neighborhood saga regarding Freedom of Information Act compliance and ANC 5B. We learned tonight that Steptoe is moving on and vacating her seat as ANC Commissioner.
Commissioner Steptoe just shared the following message via email.
Dear 5B04 Community —
In keeping with my commitment to the 5B04 community, I wish to pass along this information.
After 16 blessed years in my Lawrence Street (Brookland) home – a lovely environment I purchased as a single, young professional – I have decided to sell my home. I will remain in my D.C. hometown, but will live in upper, upper N.W. (16th Street – the inimitable “Gold Coast.” ) Like many Washingtonians, yes, I do sing The Jefferson’s theme song in association w/the prospect of living on The Gold Coast… lol!
Anyway, my new home will be 2 blocks from Walter Reed. It is also but a few blocks from Rock Creek Park and Silver Spring. As most know, the Gold Coast is a very quiet, tree-lined and long-standing residential neighborhood.
I anticipate finalizing (prayerfully) all my relocation matters soon; several weeks anyway. Once everything is finalized, I shall then relinquish my 5B04 SMD commissioner seat since, at that point, I shall neither be a 5B04 resident nor a resident of Ward 5.
I wanted to share this with you so you may know, until my formal transition out of our 5B04 community, you may contact me anytime should you need assistance. Until such time, I shall continue to be in the 5B04 community and work as the elected 5B04 commissioner. Although ANC 5B is on summer break, I can be reached on 202-321-3860. You may also send me an email at email@example.com.
Please know it remains my honor to serve my community and enjoy my neighbors. Blessings and happy summer to all!
Many of our readers know Joe Barrios from when he stepped in to the Brookland’s Finest liquor license dispute and led the brokering of a Settlement Agreement with 149 nearby residents and the restaurant. The neighborhood activist announced his run for ANC Commissioner of Single Member District 5B04 in April and since has been going door to door to build support an discuss local issues with neighbors. Now he needs help getting petition signatures to secure his spot on the ballot this coming November. The candidate is hosting a petition signing event this coming Monday: “5B04 Signs Up For Change”. Here are the details from the event page on his website:
The signatures need to be from registered voters of the 5B04 district. As a reminder, 5B04 is the bordered by Monroe Street NE to the north, 9th Street NE to the west, 13th Street NE to the east, and Rhode Island Avenue NE to the south.
We have been keeping readers up to date throughout the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) court case between Brookland resident Conor Crimmins and ANC 5B, specifically ANC 5B04 Commissioner Carolyn Steptoe. Now the case has finally come to an end. The FOIA request was for the release of the audio recording of the April 2013 SMD 5B04 meeting taken by Commissioner Steptoe. Her refusal to release it until subpoenaed to do so was the basis of this law suit. We learned at the latest hearing that a forensics expert was able to recover the audio file from the recording device, despite the finding that it was intentionally deleted and was made available to the public. We included a link to the audio recording in our last post about this case. On Tuesday April 15 Superior Judge Michael O’Keefe has announced his final ruling in this case. Sorry for the delay in bringing the final results of the case to you. Here is a link to the complete Court Order. To save you some time, here are a few key excerpts from the Court Order:
The Court concludes that more likely than not, Commissioner Steptoe deleted the file subject to the FOIA request in order to frustrate attempts to obtain it.
Commissioner Steptoe’s behavior is regrettable and possibly criminal under D.C. Code § 2-537(d). To make matters worse, Commissioner Steptoe testified falsely under oath about this matter. Her testimony was confusing and contradictory.
Commissioner Steptoe acknowledged her suspicion that “FOIA requests tend to be pretextual strategies by person/entities seeking a leg up and/or expose.” Her contumacious behavior stems from her refusal to provide D.C. residents with an audio recording of an ANC SMD 5B04 meeting that she held regarding an issue of interest to many people in the neighborhood.
Ironically, Commissioner Steptoe stated that she wished the recording could be found because the recording would prove she acted appropriately during the hearing.
Upon inspection, Commissioner Steptoe’s recorder was fully functioning, there was no evidence of file corruption, and he was able to determine that the recording of the April 27, 2013, meeting had been manually deleted.
The Court will refer the case to the OAG and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for potential prosecution of Commissioner Steptoe’s perjury and destruction of the recording.
This Court Order marks the end of this civil case, but it leaves DC taxpayers with a price to pay, as the Washington City Paper reported that the cost to defend ANC 5B and Commissioner Steptoe will be around $60,000. We will stay on top of this issue and see what happens if/when the OAG and US Attorney’s Office pick up the matter in criminal court. From what we understand, the penalty for perjury is up to 10 years, though it can be difficult to prove.
Many of our readers know Jose “Joe” Barrios from when he stepped in to the Brookland’s Finest liquor license dispute and led the brokering of a Settlement Agreement with 149 nearby residents and the restaurant. Here are some other things you may not know about Jose:
He works pro bono to legally defend victims of domestic violence and abuse
He is a co-founder, board member, and secretary of the Friends of Noyes Park, Inc.,
He is an elected officer of the Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association
He worked hard in the background with community leaders to successfully save the Brookland Green from development
He was raised in a working-class Latino family and worked his way through undergrad and law school on his own
We recently learned that Jose is going to run for ANC Commissioner of Single Member District 5B04 on the ballot this fall. Full disclosure – Astrid and I have been close friends of Jose for many years and quite frankly, are thrilled he is running. We asked Jose a few questions about his candidacy and here’s what he had to say:
Why did you decide to run?
I decided to run because I care passionately about this neighborhood and all the people that call it home. The work I’ve done in the neighborhood has allowed me to meet many residents from all walks of life and learn from them. That has motivated me to seek public office for the first time.
Our neighborhood is changing quickly. Some people like that, others have concerns. Now is the time for a strong leader to work with people across the neighborhood to help craft the vision of what we want our neighborhood to be like. I believe that my background, legal and negotiation skills, and passion for local issues make me the best person for the job.
What is your platform? What are you hoping to achieve?
My platform theme is “Bringing Brookland Together,” which reflects the approach I prefer in resolving the neighborhoods problems such as last year’s Brookland’s Finest controversy. To me that means three things:
First, it means forging solutions that bring Brookland neighbors together with respect. Brookland is one of the most diverse and open neighborhoods in DC with a remarkable mix of people from all kinds of ethnicities, religions, professions, and so on.
I’m a Latino from a working class family. I never forget where I come from or the challenges that working class families face, because my family experiences them even today. My elderly parents are both on fixed social security incomes with no retirements, and believe me that hurts. Because of Brookland’s diversity and the hot housing market there are folks here who are better off and some that struggle to make ends meet from day to day. Brookland needs a leader who can relate to the needs of the entire wonderful mosaic of people who live here rather than trying to pit them against one another.
The fact that the incumbent Commissioner Steptoe arbitrarily cancelled all community (Single Member District) meetings with her constituents speaks volumes about what she thinks of many of them, and also speaks to her inability to work with people. I will restore the SMD meetings and use them as a regular public forum where neighbors can come together to air their differences and resolve their problems.
Second, my platform means supporting small businesses in a manner that respects Brookland’s character and quality of life. Brookland and Ward 5 deserve to share in what is happening elsewhere in this city. I strongly support attracting those businesses to Brookland so long as they are willing to respect the neighborhood’s unique character. Attracting small businesses means attracting jobs, it means increasing the services that all residents can enjoy, and it means increasing the city’s tax base so that it can better afford its expenses and social services for the good of everyone.
I don’t want to live in another Columbia Heights. I will ask the tough questions and fight the good fight when I believe something is out of character or is disrespecting our residents. But our commercially-zoned 12th Street corridor does not need the anti-business reputation we have gotten in recent years. Those businesses deserve our support, and so do new ones who wish to come and make great uses out of abandoned or underused buildings that we can all enjoy. Because nobody can convince me that an abandoned rat-infested building is better for residents than a lively restaurant where neighbors can connect with one another!
Third, my platform means returning transparency and ethics to ANC 5B04. Public servants should never forget that the public has a right to know what they are doing. To do otherwise is to misuse the position. It shouldn’t take FOIA lawsuits that waste tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars. I will restore transparency by posting meeting recordings and exhibits on the internet for all to see. I will also make sure residents know of important votes I will be taking well in advance so they have an opportunity to weigh in.
As for ethics, many people know by now that Commissioner Steptoe has been referred by a DC court for possible prosecution on charges of perjury (ten year maximum prison sentence if convicted) and destruction of a public recording she had been ordered to produce. I mean, really? ANC 5B04 deserves better and needless to say I will bring a different standard to the position.
What are your favorite things about living in Brookland?
One of my favorite things about living here is that it’s literally a neighborhood where people can feel comfortable coming by to ask for a garden tool, or to exchange garden plants, or to just sit on the porch and chat. And that is true regardless of who you are, whether you’re new to the neighborhood or not, whether you’re young or older, and so on. People simply care and are willing to accept you as you are. I think that’s great.
People are also really passionate about their vision for the neighborhood. Sometimes that causes sharp differences of opinion, and that’s fine. It means they care enough, which is a good thing. And although a few people prefer to emphasize those differences, I think our neighbors are more united than divided in their vision for the neighborhood. We all care about crime, safe streets, more jobs and local services, better local schools, more parks and open spaces, and the like. I think most of us would enjoy having more of the amenities that other DC residents in other Wards enjoy, even if we disagree about how much, the location, and the density. If you look behind the conflicts you see most people united in common cause for their neighborhood, and that level of passion for the place we call home really means a lot to me.
I also love my Brookland garden. Mark and I spend a lot of time planning it in winter and planting it in spring. I can never keep up with the weeds, less so now with my campaign getting started, but walking through the garden after work is a joy and reprieve from the stresses of the world that I wouldn’t give up for anything.
The boundaries of Single Member District 5B04 are the railroad tracks to the west, Monroe Street NE to the north, 13st Street NE to the east, and Rhode Island Avenue NE to the south. As far as we know, no one else has announced their intention to run for the seat. The current ANC 5B04 Commissioner is Carolyn Steptoe, who should need no introduction to our readers. Here is the contact information for Jose’s campaign:
Anyone who follows our blog, or just Brookland civic events, is aware of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) court case involving ANC 5B04 Commissioner Steptoe and a private citizen, Conor Crimmins, over her audio recording of the April 2013 ANC 5B-04 meeting. The result of the FOIA case was this summary judgment, requiring Commissioner Steptoe to release the recording. In our latest update on this case, we shared that Commissioner Steptoe was subpoenaed after the attorney for ANC 5B stated that the recording is unavailable and that the ANC had taken all reasonable steps to produce it unsuccessfully. At the court date for which Commissioner Steptoe was subpoenaed, an eye-witness told me that the Commissioner claimed that she had no idea what happened to the recording. She also turned the audio recorder over to the judge, and the judge, in turn, allowed a forensics expect to examine the recorder. According to a discussion I had with Mr. Crimmins, the forensics expert was able to retrieve the audio file in less than an hour at a cost of just over $300. The forensics expert is also creating a report that will be submitted to the court that states that the recording was deleted. You can hear the recording here. Note that the part of the meeting concerning Brookland’s Finest Restaurant, that I would suspect many readers would be most interested in, begins around the 48 minute mark.
As for the next steps in the case, the attorney for Mr. Crimmins will be filing a motion soon alleging Civil Contempt of Court, which basically means failure to adhere to an order from the court. We will let you know when we get any further news in this ongoing court case.
We have been following an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case over the recording of the April 2013 ANC 5B-04 meeting hosted by Commissioner Carolyn Steptoe. There has been some conjecture about what exactly happened at the meeting. Many residents claim that Commissioner Steptoe was rude and dismissive to her constituents while Commissioner Steptoe claimed that meeting attendees were disrespectful and mob-like towards her, and that is what prompted her to shut down the meeting. There hasn’t been an ANC 5B-04 meeting since, and at the February 2014 ANC 5B meeting Commissioner Steptoe announced that she will no longer hold SMD meetings because they “cause a ruckus among some people”. Other than hearsay, the only documentation of what actually occurred is an audio recording Commissioner Steptoe made during the meeting. Realizing this recording could provide clarity to the situation, Brookland resident Conor Crimmins and the Brookland Bridge Blog submitted FOIA requests for the recording, both of which were denied by ANC 5B. Mr. Crimmins decided to pursue the issue and took it court. The result, this summary judgment, required Commissioner Steptoe to release the recording despite her contention that the recording was made with her personal device and therefore is her possession. At that point, in early November 2013, those of us following this case thought it was pretty much over.
It turns out that Commissioner Steptoe has yet to turn the recording over, and in fact, it may have been destroyed. In early December 2013 ANC 5B asked for the court for a reconsideration; arguing that ANC 5B should not be held responsible for the recording, that the recording is unavailable, and the judge should reverse his opinion (you can see Defendant ANC 5B’s Reply to Plaintiff’s Opposition To Its Motion for Reconsideration here). In response, the court denied the Reconsideration in mid December and re-asserted that the defendant (ANC 5B) must make the recording available (you can see the court’s Order on Motion for Reconsideration here).
On January 30th, 2014, I attended a court hearing in this case, in hopes of securing a copy of the recording to share with our readers. At that hearing the attorney for ANC 5B stated that the recording is unavailable and that the ANC has taken all reasonable steps to produce it unsuccessfully. It was unclear what happened to the recording, other than it could not be retrieved from the recorder. The attorney said they even obtained an estimate from a forensics expert who said it could cost $1,400 – $1,800 to retrieve the files from the recorder. Further, the attorney asserted, taxpayers should not be responsible to pay this fee through ANC 5B. Upon further questioning from the judge about the ANC’s responsibility and inability to produce the recording, the ANC attorney explained that ANC 5B doesn’t have control or authority over Commissioner Steptoe, and that she should be held responsible for the recording, not ANC 5B. The Judge concluded that it is “unseemly that someone destroys documents that are public…there has to be a consequence to that”, and added that there needs to be an evidentiary hearing at which Commissioner Steptoe testifies about what happened to the recording. The judge also noted that Commissioner Steptoe would be held accountable for the recording, not ANC 5B. The attorney for ANC 5B asserted that Commissioner Steptoe is not technically an employee and therefore they cannot compel her to appear at a court date. The judge therefore agreed that Commissioner Steptoe be served with a subpoena and appear at the next hearing coming up on Wednesday, March 19th. We contacted the plaintiff in this case, Conor Crimmins, and he confirmed to us that Commissioner Steptoe was served with the subpoena on Wednesday, February 26th, 2014.
We will continue to follow this case as it winds through the court process.
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