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Thousands of dollars for materials, such as $15 cases of soda, were billed to the ANC and shipped from Maryland to various offices and apartments, some with no apparent connection to the commission.

Mr. Shelton and Ms. Staten possessed the only keys to the office and its records, even after the theft case was referred to law enforcement.

After Mr. Shelton eventually turned in his key, that left only Ms. Staten, who is not part of the elected commission. The new chairwoman, Ms. James, told colleagues that no commissioner but herself could review finances there because of privacy rules at the Salvation Army, which provides drug-treatment services.

That was never true, said the center’s executive director, Mary Lynn Logsdon.

“She was so unbelievable,” Ms. Logsdon said. “Who knows what was going on back there?”

D.C. law says ANC officials must make documents available to the public upon request. But when they were requested at the front desk of the Salvation Army, Ms. James refused to come out of the office and called the police.

“I don’t give a damn about the D.C. code,” she said.

Systemic failings

The D.C. auditor’s office, which is responsible for reviewing ANC finances,ANC Executive Director Gottlieb Simon’s office and the attorney general’s office all said Ms. James must turn over documents to the broader commission and to the public. Yet when told she had refused, the oversight agencies said they had no ability to enforce the law.

“We don’t have any enforcement mechanisms,” Deputy Auditor Lawrence Perry said. “Mr. Simon’s office is responsible for administration.”

“My office doesn’t maintain records from the commissions. The ANC itself has copies,” Mr. Simon said. “The auditor’s office is responsible for oversight.”

The 37 commissions in the city each have four to 12 elected members.

Repeatedly, when constituents brought credible complaints about regulations that were ignored or flouted, the chairman refused to provide easily obtainable documentation, and the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions declined to obtain them.

Reports that lacked so much as a signature were stamped by the auditor, and many reports submitted to the auditor are missing basic pieces of information. Multiple ANCs routinely failed to deduct taxes.

Commissioner India Henderson, who took over for Ms. Brown-Daniels as treasurer for a stint in 2010, said she documented repeated concerns to Mr. Simon; Lynard Barnum, then the auditor office’s chief ANC specialist who resigned weeks ago; and D.C. Council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, who was then head of the committee with jurisdiction over ANCs. But nothing was ever done.

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