I attended the Columbia Association Board of Directors Planning & Strategy Committee last night. I went to show my support for increasing the annual contribution that CA makes to the Columbia Festival of the Arts. For as long as I can remember, the CA contribution to festival has remained static at $95,000.00. This money is used primarily to help fund the free, three day LakeFest program of the sixteen day festival.
This year, the Board of Trustees of the festival requested a $15,000 increase from CA. As I have previously written, this years fundraising for the festival has been directly impacted by the slowing economy. Festival volunteers are pulling out all stops to make up for the shortfall. The request to CA was one of these ongoing efforts.
First, the good news; CA will not reduce this years contribution. That was actually proposed by Councilperson Cynthia Coyle (Harpers Choice). After watching Ms. Coyle in action last night I can honestly say that she is either the dimmest bulb on the council or simply an obstructionist. Councilperson Coyle and Councilperson Barbara Russell believe that the festival is “flush with cash.” They believe this because they erroneously misinterpreted a contribution made to the festival from The Rouse Company Foundation.
The foundation made a contribution to an endowment for the festival in lieu of continuing to make annual gifts. The object was to establish something more long term to insure the festivals long term survival. The intent is for this endowment to produce an annual income that would be equal to the previous annual gifts. Unfortunately because the endowment fund has not actually earned much money yet (it was only established this year), this had the resultant effect of actually reducing the amount of money that the festival would have received this year from the foundation. Instead of being “flush with cash” the festival is like a Columbia homeowner. Our home is worth more on paper than it would be in readily available cash. That is hardly being “flush with cash.”
Both Ms. Coyle and Ms. Russell said they got their information from “the newspaper.” A statement from Steve Sachs, the former chair of the festival Board of Trustees detailing the facts of The Rouse Company Foundation gift was read by CA president, Maggie Brown, at the meeting. The statement claimed that the CA board members had injured the festival fundraising efforts by these statements. Both Ms. Coyle and Ms Russell remained unapologetic for their previous statement and simply reiterated that they believed what they had read in “the paper.”
The bad news is that the CA Board voted 5 to 4 to deny an increase in the annual contribution. Those voting against the increase along with Ms. Coyle and Ms Russell were Councilpersons Evan Coren (Kings Contrivance), Phillip Kirsch (Wilde Lake), and Henry Dagenais (Long Reach). Evan Coren, who also chaired this particular committee was blatantly pandering to both Coyle and Russell all evening, not just on this issue. It was quite obvious to the very small audience (less than five people including myself) that Coyle, Russell, Kirsch and Coren are all under the influence of the Alliance for A Better Columbia. I am beginning to question what a “better Columbia” actually means to these people. I don’t think it looks like any place I’d want to be.
It wasn’t all bad. There are good people on the board too. There just aren’t enough of them. Last night the festival friends were Tom O’Connor (Dorsey’s Search), Miles Coffman (Hickory Ridge), Pearl Atkinson-Stewart (Owen Brown) and Michael Cornell (River Hill). After listening for an hour and a half to the discussions about staff salaries, the sister city program (it now has some new multi cultural name) and the festival funding request, I would have to categorize these four councilpersons as the guardians at the gate. We are very lucky to have them on the council. Right now they are outnumbered and it is getting harder to hold back the barbarian hordes.
Just my opinion of course. Still, I challenge anyone to attend a CA board committee meeting and draw your own conclusions. It is high drama of Columbia politics. This particular meeting even had a surreal nature to it. Ms. Russell was unable to attend in person (I know not why) but she was present on the speakerphone. I guess that is at least better than Gail Broida (Town Center) who was not in attendance at all (again I know not why).
The bottom line is that The Columbia Association has seemingly been taken over by a people are closely aligned with The Alliance for a Better Columbia. That should scare anyone who cares about Columbia.
The Alliance for a Better Columbia is a darling of the local papers. Alex Hekimian, the president of the organization is often portrayed by the papers as a spokesman of a leading community group. The problem for me is that this organization is basically Alex Hekimian. For at least fifteen years he has been the only president the organization has ever had. I would be very surprised if the ABC board of directors hadn’t changed that much in so many years either. I am willing to bet that their active membership does not exceed 300 people. Three hundred people led by one guy, having a major influence on the direction of an organization that touches the lives of the majority of people in Howard County. Scary.
Real citizen’s organizations have succession in leadership and dynamic boards. In this way they attempt to more accurately reflect a wider range of opinion and thought. That just ain’t happening at the ABC.
In my opinion of course. This is my blog after all. You don’t have to read it if you don’t like it.
For those who agree, we need to do something. We need to do something big. We need to act soon before it is too late. The barbarians are at the gate. We are outnumbered.
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