Concerned Citizen of the Day: D.C.'s 'Squeaky Wheel'

Does your city have a Michael Sindram?

Image
Flickr/David Gaines

If you've ever been to a city council hearing or any other city-related public forum you know Michael Sindram. If not the man, then surely his likeness. 

Washington City Paper, dubbed Sindram D.C.'s "squeakiest wheel" in this week's nearly 4,000-word cover story (every squeaky wheel's dream, right?). This record speaks for itself.

The 6-foot, 5-inch, 200-pound man with a bald head is D.C.’s most prolific public witness. When the D.C. Council mulled seemingly mundane regulatory matters, he was there. When ANC 4D, in Petworth, discussed D.C. statehood, he was there, even though he’s not a resident of that district. When ANC 3F in Cleveland Park considered a nominee for the city’s Human Rights Commission, he was there, even though he’s not a resident of that entire ward. He’s cagey about quantifying his appearances at public meetings, but a glance at the Council’s recent witness lists gives a sense of just how much Sindram the city’s elected officials are experiencing: In April, the Council held hearings on 14 days; Sindram was scheduled to testify 21 times.

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Nearly every local political scene has someone like Sindram. His story involves long digressions into unfair speeding tickets, city agency overcharges, inaccurate tax assessments, and Americans with Disabilities Act violations. Sindram has been tenacious in fighting to get what he believes is his. His entanglement with the Supreme Court, for instance, began with a $100 speeding ticket in Dorchester County, Md. Claiming the officer lacked evidence, Sindram challenged the ticket in five different state and federal courts on 27 occasions, to no avail. So he aimed higher. From 1989 to 1991, he filed 42 petitions with the Supreme Court, all of them in forma pauperis. The justices never did take up the case of the speeding ticket, but did rule, in a 6-3 decision, that Sindram would have to pay the court’s filing fees. “[T]he Court’s order in this case appears to be nothing more than an alternative for punishing Sindram for the frequency with which he has filed petitions,” wrote Thurgood Marshall in a dissent.

Continue reading this fascinating profile of that local engaged citizen you admire for persistence in dealing with local government, but don't envy for it.

Top image: Flickr/David Gaines

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