Thursday, November 30, 2006

Enough Already

I took a brief hiatus from blogging to enjoy the Thanksgiving holidays. I also did not feel the need to add to the dialogue on any of our local news items. The other Howard County bloggers were doing just fine.

Until now...

I have recently had the opportunity to speak with Barbara Russell, the Columbia Council representative from Oakland Mills and I have come to the conclusion that she is clueless. I happened to mentioned to her that the commercial property owners do not have any vote in Columbia elections, even though they contribute over a quarter of the CA assessment income.

She said that wasn't true.

I told that it was and to prove the point I asked her what village Columbia Gateway Corporate Park was in.

She didn't know.

I do. It isn't in one.

This is no small issue. To not understand that a significant source of your assessment income comes from disenfranchised property owners is inexcusable, particularly for someone who has been on the board as long she has. In other words, I believe she's clueless.

Ms Russell is also beginning to flex her seniority muscles more and more on the council. The latest example is her participation in the group that does not want to extend Maggie Browns contract. Maggie Brown is the president of The Columbia Association. She has served in this role for five years. She has admirably guided an organization with a $50 million dollar annual operating budget while dealing with a Board of Directors that can best be called dysfunctional.

I find Cynthia Coyle, the Harpers Choice Columbia Council representative, to be worrisome as well. While I have not had the opportunity to speak with her directly I have recently attended a meeting and watched her in action. The people in Columbia should be concerned. Very concerned.

It is interesting to note that the CA website does not contain any information on the backgrounds or qualifications of the board members. These are the people making policy decisions for a large organization that touches the lives of everyone in Columbia. They are often elected by fewer than 300 votes!

What will it take to change this?

I spoke with Guy Guzzone at a cocktail party about this very issue. The majority of the assessment paying population of Columbia simply does not have the Columbia Council on their radar screens. It is amazing that such an educated and informed populace can be so out of touch with what is happening in their own community. Until that changes The Columbia Association is destined to be run by some people who ordinarily would never be entrusted with much more responsibility than dogcatcher.

In my not so humble opinion that is!


Anonymous said...

Interesting take. Maybe that's one more reason why the CA board doesn't allow non-residents to speak at CA board meetings? :)

Here's another question about CA voting. Residential property owners get a vote in CA elections. Do renters also get a vote? If they do, it would be pretty ironic that non-property-owning renters get to vote, but property-owning commercial property owners do not.
Also, if renters do get a vote, does that mean each property being rented effectively gets two votes, while other residential non-rented properties only get one vote?

As for putting Board members C.V.s on the CA website, I think it's a bad idea. That gives incumbents a CA taxpayer-funded advantage for promoting themselves come re-election time. I would, however, like to see attendance and voting records of Board members posted on the website.

wordbones said...

And you raise an interesting point. I wonder if a non voting commercial property owner would be allowed to speak at a CA board meeting.

I might have to try that.

I also like the idea of putting attendance and voting records on the website.

Anonymous said...

I hope I can help clear the air here a little bit. The answer to Wordbones initial question about commercial properties voting in local Columbia Village elections is:

It depends.

Unfortunately, everybody has a little bit of the puzzle, and unfortunately, everybody is half right. First, let’s talk about the nine villages and the residential portion of Town Center. In all ten areas, the voting eligibility requirements are spelled out in the Village Covenants. As a general rule of thumb, if the village has architectural control over a site, they are allowed to vote in that village election, but there are differences. For instance, the Feet First shop and the Bagel Bin in the Wilde Lake Village Center can vote in the Wilde Lake Village elections. Keep in mind that the Covenants in each village are slightly different, so it is important to check.

With respect to properties that are not in a specific village, but are on lien assessed-new town property. These properties are governed by a different set of covenants. Yes, surprise, there are three sets of covenants in Columbia: The Village covenants, the CA covenants, and the commercial covenants. The commercial covenants cover areas such as Gateway, the Oakland Ridge Industrial Part (Red Branch Road), portions of the Snowden River Parkway corridor, and (hold your breath) downtown Columbia. I have never seen the commercial covenants, but I believe (and as I often say, “I could be wrong here”) they are currently administered by General Growth Properties (so THAT’s how neon got into downtown Columbia). So they may not be eligible to vote in CA elections, but they are held to a different set of covenants.

(On a side note, I vaguely remember hearing that General Growth wanted to turn the covenants over to the commercial owners of the properties and that some members of the Owen Brown Village Board are very concerned.)

This is why we had such a dust-up last year regarding those folks that live in Evergreen and the Lakeside Condos, in that they lived on lien assessed property, but did not have the ability to vote in the Town Center elections.

With respect to property owner voter eligibility, it depends on the village. I believe all villages allow both property owners and tenants to vote. In all the villages except Kings Contrivance and River Hill, if there are multiple people on the property deed (as an example, a wife and husband) only one of them is allowed to vote in any one year. In River Hill and Kings Contrivance, all residents over the age of 18 are allowed to vote.

David W. Keelan said...

Given the outcome of November 7th I understand exactly what you mean.

"It is amazing that such an educated and informed populace can be so out of touch with what is happening in their own community. "

Anonymous said...


Do not confuse County and State elections with Columbia Village elections.

Fair Play Columbia said...

Wordbones just wanted to let you know about our new group Fair Play Columbia: Plaza Now, we strongly support the The Plaza Residences project and we are going to try to make our voices heard in this process.

Your speaking out on this issue helped us decide to take a stand.

We just put up a website

wordbones said...

I like it!
It deserves it's own post.