Columbia Forum think tank will eliminate paid staff, rely on volunteers Group to focus on improving community

December 13, 1992|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

The Columbia Forum, a nonprofit think tank based in Columbia, has decided to eliminate its paid staff and focus on achieving community-improvement goals it outlined in a report this fall.

"We neither need, nor can we afford, a paid staff to do things that citizens can and should do," said Morris Keeton, Forum president.

Mr. Keeton said the Forum will act as a watchdog group to monitor progress toward the goals set in the report, to act as a catalyst in Columbia for working toward the goals, and to organize events to celebrate life in Columbia.

The group, founded in 1982, may also move its office out of the Columbia Association's office in May. The association, which manages the community's recreational facilities and cultural programs, donates office space and phone use to the Forum at the association's headquarters, located on Wincopin Circle in Columbia. It's unclear where the forum will move, Mr. Keeton said.

This year, while the forum assembled findings for its report outlining goals for improving Columbia, it operated on a budget of about $111,000, he said.

The budget includes a $10,000 grant from the Columbia Association to compile the report. Normally, the Forum operates on a budget of $47,000, which comes from donations. Mr. Keeton was uncertain what the budget for 1993 will be, but expects it to be less than $47,000.

The budget pays for research projects and office-type services and hiring experts, such as lawyers or accountants, to assist with reports, he said.

The organization's 24 directors have been debating whether to continue with a paid staff for weeks, Mr. Keeton said.

"It's been a difficult struggle to have a paid staff," he said. "Board members had to underwrite part of it."

The forum's paid staff -- David Tucker, the executive director, andJan Nyquist, an administrative assistant -- will be dropped from the payroll Tuesday.

Mr. Tucker was hired by the Forum in April 1992 to oversee and write the report titled "An Agenda for Columbia," which the Columbia Forum issued in October. The report marked Columbia's 25th anniversary and was one of its largest undertakings.

"It was an amicable and enthusiastic decision," said Mr. Tucker. "It's time for the organization to find another way to be."

He said he will remain as a volunteer with the organization to assist other volunteers with the forum's effort to work within the community for goals set out in the report marking Columbia's 25th anniversary.

The 56-page report was pulled together by 12 committees that examined a wide range of issues, from transportation and housing to downtown development and governance.

Though the report contains more than 100 recommendations for improving life in the city, it does not offer any specific ideas

about how to implement them.

The report's top recommendations include encouraging the community to look seriously at changing the way it is governed, opening a center for heightening appreciation for ethnic diversity, and enticing the city's developer, The Rouse Company, to build housing in Town Center.

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