Challenge the CA
From: Albert Genemans
My Columbia Association annual charge increased last year from $475 to $684.
While CA overcharged me only 25 percent last fiscal year, this fiscal year it overcharged me by 57 percent. The infamous and notorious "savings provision" allows CA to overcharge people by large amounts of money.
I took CA to court on this matter to find some relief of these enormous charges. Judge James N. Vaughan of the Howard County District Court was very sympathetic, but he did not give me any relief. The fact that there was an overcharge was not in dispute.
The question centered more on whether the practice of overcharging is legal or not. Following the Columbia Covenants, CA would be in violation of both the letter as well as the spirit of the covenant. They interpret the covenant, however, to be subject to applicable law -- the way the covenant expresses this as the applicable law which regulates the assessments of county and state assessments and not the Columbia Association.
This is the way I understood it when I signed my papers, and that was the way Michael Spear, general manager of HRD, understood it as explained to me in an letter attached to the covenant.
He said in his letter that CA's assessment amount should be the same as the county assessment amount. Also, in the covenant itself, Article II, Sec. 2.03 states that CA's assessment is to be the same as appears on the appropriate public record.
Of course, CA does not have to pay attention to these nasty little details. After all, they had the Maryland legislation modifying the terms of the covenant back in 1978 -- a modification known as the savings provision.
Judge Vaughan, by ruling for CA, in effect acknowledged the right of the legislature to intervene in a private contract and modify its terms favoring one party over the other (retroactively).
By charter, the purpose of the covenant can never be amended, yet the Maryland legislature did just that -- it legislated a new purpose for our covenant.
It not only forces CA to collect money from the lien payer above and beyond that which the covenant allows, it also now forces CA to spend this money for "public services and facilities." CA of course, does not have any public facilities -- even the bike paths are declared private property.
Today, the savings provision as rewritten in 1990 with an amended purpose to the covenant may very well violate the Maryland constitution as well.
Next year, when going to the ballot box to choose new council members, please remember these allegations. How true are they? And who should be held responsible for these enormous and (probably) illegal charges?
SOS for disclosure bill
From: John W. Taylor
There is an important bill before the County Council this month. Bill 57 is an act to expand the number of boards and commissions whose members would be required to file financial disclosures in accordance with our county ethics law.
It is tempting to think that such a bill would sail right through, passing with a unanimous vote of the five-member council and support throughout the government. Requirements for full, reasonable disclosure of any financial interests or relationships that could lead to a conflict of interest can only be in everybody's best interest.
Unfortunately, the bill isn't sailing; it is sinking fast. Of five council members who could support the bill and vote for it, not one seems ready to do so, judging from the council work session on the bill held Monday, June 22.
Various reasons have been cited by the council members most opposed to the legislation; perhaps the worst is the utterly ridiculous contention that this bill would scare away "good" people from volunteering for boards and commissions. Nonsense. Anyone who is unwilling to make a reasonable financial disclosure should not be "serving" Howard County in any capacity.
And "reasonable" is the key word here. The financial disclosure form takes only a few minutes to complete. It does not even require listing dollar amounts. It is not intrusive or unreasonable in any way. The form only serves to bring to light any financial interests or relationships that could lead to a conflict of interest.
Nothing about the bill levies any unreasonable requirements; it simply expands the coverage of our ethics law. This is especially appropriate at a time when public confidence in government is at an all-time low.
There is simply no good argument against Bill 57. In fact, by only mentioning certain boards and commissions, the bill does not go far enough.
No boards or commissions should be singled out for inclusion in our ethics requirements; the law should be fairly applied to all. Amended to do so, Bill 57 would be a welcome and reasonable addition to Howard County law.