Loose Lips

ANC Recorder Antics Could Cost City $60K

shutterstock_86070817A missing audio recording could end up costing the District government tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and lead to criminal charges against a Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, according to a new court ruling.

To understand how a simple Freedom of Information Act request spun out of control, let's begin with the byzantine politics of Brookland liquor licenses (yay). In May 2013, ANC 5B protested a liquor license application for Brookland's Finest, an as-yet-unopened restaurant located on Jackson Street NE, even though a majority of the nearby residents supported the license. The opposition to the license included ANC commissioner Carolyn Steptoe, who previously earned some notoriety for protesting another development by painting signs on the front her house.

Brookland residents Conor Crimmins filed a FOIA request for documents related to the protest and a recording of an ANC meeting that Steptoe had created on her own recording device. Instead of handing over the files, though, the ANC fought the case all the way to court. Steptoe, who argued that the recording couldn't be obtained through an open records request because it was her own property, eventually handed over the recorder after Superior Court Judge Michael O'Keefe ordered her to do so.

By then, though, the meeting recording had disappeared from the recorder. An audio expert was able to recover the file and discovered that it had been manually deleted. With Steptoe saying she hadn't lent the recorder to anyone, the ANC commissioner appeared to have deleted it herself. “Based upon this evidence, 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," O'Keefe writes in an opinion issued this month.

Steptoe, who insists on her innocence and tells LL via email that the ruling is "a personal affront to my character," could face charges. In his order, O'Keefe writes that he's contacted the District's Office of the Attorney General and U.S. Attorney's Office to consider pursuing a case.

The ANC—and as a result, District taxpayers—will foot Crimmins' legal bills. Don Padou, Crimmins' lawyer, says that his bill ran to around $60,000.

Even after spending nearly a year on the case, though, Padou isn't sure why Steptoe fought so hard to protect the recording, which turned out to be pretty banal.

"You get into these FOIA cases and think they’re working so hard to protect this document, there must be something good in it," Padou says. "And more often than not it’s just stubbornness."

Recorder photo by Shutterstock

  • roughrider

    DISBAND ALL ANCS NOW.

    THESE FOOLS DO NOT "REPRESENT" ANYBODY BUT THEIR OWN SELF INTEREST. SAVE US ALL TIME AND $$$ AND GET RID OF THEM ALL.

  • Brians.Ions

    A local news blog reported that Steptoe has refused to hold a ANC 5B meeting for nearly a reay since the May '13 meeting which she taped-- and now she reportedly ERASED.

    Contempt for ANC5B's residents and businesses in Ward 5 knows no bounds.

    A few months ago, Steptoe scored the WORST IN THE CITY as a Ward 5 Council candidate (minus 2 out of 10) on GLAA's candidate survey of LGBT civil rights issues.

    Incredibly, MPD's PSA-504 and MPD-HQ awarded Steptoe their prestigious *Citizen of the Year Award* just a few months ago. Never mind that she is a sitting politician. Go figure.

    Kudos to a great neighborhood citizen, Conor Crimmins, and his great lawyer, Don Padou for fighting "city hall."

    Come to think of it, ANC Commish Steptoe, by comparison, makes DC's City Hall look good.
    :-o

  • Marvin E. Adams

    One word - U-N-B-E-L-I-E-V-A-B-L-E!

  • Andrew

    Recall her. It's 10% of voters in her district, right?

  • Brians.Ions

    A local news blog reported that Steptoe has refused to hold a ANC 5B meeting for nearly a year since the May '13 meeting which she taped.

    Contempt for ANC5B's residents and businesses in Ward 5 knows no bounds. So much for openness and transparency.

    A few months ago, some will recall Steptoe scored the WORST IN THE CITY as a Ward 5 Council candidate (minus 2 out of 10) on GLAA's candidate survey of LGBT civil rights issues.

    Incredibly, MPD's PSA-504 and MPD-HQ awarded Steptoe their prestigious, citywide *Citizen of the Year Award* -- also just a few months ago. Never mind that she is a sitting political OFFICIAL of the DC government.

    The rest of it-- well, obviously MPD did not bother to check with the neighborhood... maybe 'cuz its short-handed by 600 cops. Go figure.

  • LLG

    If found guilty of perjury, Steptoe should be ordered to repay the taxpayers for the costs that they are shouldering for her antics. I'd rather see her fined than sent to jail. Steptoe's foolishness has cost the taxpayers enough already.

  • Stepped on toes

    Ouchie.

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  • erik

    SINCE THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I'VE EVER AGREED WITH SOMEONE WHO POSTED IN ALL CAPS, I'M POSTING IN ALL CAPS FOR THE FIRST TIME.

  • Election Minded

    So, when will Mr. Crimmins announce his challenge to Steptoe? She has got to go.

  • Don

    Unfortunately you don't need to just boot Steptoe, you need to boot her "co-conspirator" as it were.

  • Joseph Vaughan

    As an ANC I am frustrated the hard work we perform, on a volunteer basis, is blighted by a small-minded Commissioner. Commmissioners work year-round to improve their communities and I encourage those who care, to consider serving. The actions of an individual are simply that, the actions of an individual!

  • Marvin E. Adams

    @ Commissioner Joseph Vaughan, you wrote "...The actions of an individual are simply that, the actions of an individual." I would, in all honesty, like to concur. But, seriously! What about William Shelton, A former Ward 5 Commissioner and Sandra Seegars, of Ward 8. who bragged about the fact that being an ANC, amounts to "easy money" for which she bought herself a car.

    Whether you admit it or not, there is a prevailing culture here which allows those with access to the purse strings to do less than the right and honorable thing. I am, by no means attempting to generalize all , but there are some, and they know who they are, even though the long arm of the law has not prevailed upon them, as of yet, who need to exit stage left, Y-E-S-T-E-R-D-AY!

  • I live in Brookland

    Election Minded: Mr. Crimmins cannot challenge Commissioner Steptoe for the ANC 5B04 seat as he doesn't reside in 5B04.

    I've known Conor for many years and he is one of the most honest and helpful people I've known. I wish he could run against Carolyn Steptoe -- but he's in a different SMD.

    I did hear, though, that Jose "Joe" Barrios just announced he is running and he would make an amazing Commissioner for ANC 5B04.

  • DCCommish

    Here we go again with Steptoe! This woman is batshit crazy! I hope that they fine her and make her liable for the $60k in costs along with sending her to jail. She's never been innocent of anything! She's an evil, vicious hater who needs to pay the piper now! Jail for Steptoe!

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  • REALDC

    ANCs could be a good way to bring people and government closer but you have to have the right people on the ANC.

    But when there are bad commissioners it is really hard for the community to support.

    Classic example is ANC 4A, they fight like "cats and dogs" over the pettiest things. The chair is an idiot that is manipulated by another commissioner. The other ANC is appointed by the mayor for his day job that deals with city leases with Doug Jemal. So now this ANC is "moonlighting" with Jemal to develop real estate in the ANC's area. Jemal has given the ANC 4A a no lease below market office rental. SMH.

    Gray has the "worst" appointees in the history DC government. Gray might not be guilty but he is surrounded by CROOKS!! Good riddance.

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