Criticism about the way the Columbia Association collects and spendsmoney and a dispute over batting cages may help enliven the normallyuneventful Columbia village elections this year.
Two members of the Columbia Council -- which is composed of one representative from each village -- face challenges in the April 25 village elections. Challengers also are trying to wrest seats from village association board members in four of Columbia's 10 villages. The newly inhabited village of River Hill will have its first elections next year.
Charles Ahalt, a persistent critic of the council and member of Alliance for a Better Columbia, is making his second attempt at the council seat from Hickory Ridge. The incumbent, James Loesch, beat Ahalt by a 15 percent margin in 1990.
Loesch and his former colleagueson the village board were recently embroiled in a debate over the association's plans to build batting cages and a miniature golf course next to the new community of Clemens West.
After protests from neighboring residents, the board voted to oppose the site for the so-called family fun center, reversing an earlier position. Loesch carried that recommendation to the council, which voted against the site lastweek.
Although Ahalt has not served on the council, his message is well-known to council members and association staff. "Plain and simple, I want the Columbia Association to comply with the covenants," he said.
Ahalt claims the association has violated its own rules bynot conforming to the state's local property tax formula in collecting its annual charge and in allowing non-Columbia residents to use association facilities. He accuses Loesch of doing what association staff tells him to do.
Loesch contends that Ahalt's combative stance would make him ineffective and difficult to work with. Loesch points to his work with the council and association staff on the fun center,village pathways, tot lots and pool landscaping as evidence of effective representation.
Council member Michael Deets of Wilde Lake also faces a challenge. Norma Rose, who served as the village's councilrepresentative from 1974-1976 and more recently as a village board member for the 1990-1991 term, is vying for the seat.
Rose says shewants to get residents more involved in the decision-making process and make the association more accountable for how it spends the annual charge.
"When I was on the Columbia Council, we were told that by now . . . the lien would be generating so much income, neighborhoodpools could be free to residents. I want to know why we're no closerto that dream today than 15 years ago," she said. She wants to look closely at money spent in other areas, such as $1.1 million budgeted for marketing.
Deets, who has served two council terms and one board term, also thinks the association needs to do some soul-searching.
"It's very important that we look at where Columbia has come fromover the past 25 years and ask the question where do we go from here. As someone who's grown up in Wilde Lake . . . I think I'm uniquely qualified to examine that question," Deets said.
In the village association races:
Four incumbent Hickory Ridge village board members face challenges from Clemens West resident and fun center opponent Roger Lawson, Hawthorn resident Robert O'Brien and Clary's Forest resident Rita Siprak-Weill.
Chairman Mike Rethman is running for re-election to the five-seat board along with Vice Chairman Miles Coffman, Phil Berman and Bob Hixson. Carol Thelen is not running for re-election.
Two of Ahalt's fellow alliance members are mounting village board challenges.
Alliance member Chuck Rees -- who delivered a series of assessment-formula lectures before village boards before the Columbia Council voted to lower it 2 cents per $100 of assessed value-- is running against Kings Contrivance board member Ed DiCarlo and newcomer John McLaughlin, a resident of the Pines Condominiums. Boardmember Gloria Greene is not running for re-election.
Walter Collopy, another alliance member, is vying for one of five open board seats in Harper's Choice along with newcomer Laura Waters and incumbents Heather D'Amore, Clem Aquilea, Hope Sachwald and Peter Weickgenannt.
Wilde Lake also has a board contest, with eight candidates runningfor five board seats.
Former board members Michelle Alexander andStanley Daniello and newcomers Howard Feldmesser and Verna Lawes arechallenging incumbents Elizabeth Alexander (no relation to Michelle), Gene F. Collins, Janet Mason and Gregory Siracusa. Board member Eric Marburger is not running for re-election. Incumbent board and council representatives are running unopposed in Dorsey's Search, Long Reach, Oakland Mills, Owen Brown and Town Center villages.
Although April 25 is election day for all villages, Owen Brown and Oakland Mills will have additional Friday balloting.
All times on Saturday, April 25, unless otherwise indicated. (i) indicates incumbent. (u) indicates unopposed candidate.