Panel to rule on Long Reach election COLUMBIA

May 14, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

The Long Reach village election committee will announce its ruling tonight on a disputed Columbia Council election.

The losing candidate, Roy T. Lyons, challenged the April 24 election after discovering that two apartment building owners, who cast 276 votes on behalf of tenants, had swung the outcome in favor of his opponent, three-term council member Gail Bailey.

The election committee has received legal advice from a Rockville law firm and will present its report at 7:30 p.m. at Stonehouse in the Long Reach Village Center.

Covenants in most Columbia villages, including Long Reach, zTC entitle property owners to one vote for each dwelling unit or vacant lot owned. But interpretations vary as to whether that rule allows apartment building owners to cast votes for all units they own.

Some Columbia residents have criticized the election as undemocratic and unethical. Others have argued that, unlike a municipality, Columbia was set up 25 years ago as a large homeowners' association, with voting based on property rights.

Both candidates have threatened legal action if denied a seat on the council, which acts as the board of directors for the nonprofit Columbia Association.

The association collects an annual lien from property owners to operate the unincorporated city's recreational facilities and community programs and to maintain open space. Its fiscal 1994 budget is $30.6 million.

Mr. Lyons, who argues that residents who cast single votes were "disenfranchised" by the "bloc votes" submitted by the apartment owners, rejected the Long Reach village board's contention that the election was conducted "in accordance with long-standing practice."

"Then the village board must be a coffee klatch because this is not a democratic system at all," Mr. Lyons said. "In fact, they have not been serving our interests at all."

Ms. Bailey contends that she won according to the rules, which she said the candidates discussed with the election committee and village board before the election.

"It's not new. The system's been in place many years," she said. "The time to change it is not after an election you don't like."

Columbia Council Chairman John M. Hansen, who represented the Village of Harper's Choice, resigned last week, citing the Long Reach election flap. He has been replaced by Hope Sachwald, who served on the Harper's Choice village board.

Councilwoman Karen Kuecker, of the Village of Owen Brown, replaced Mr. Hansen as chairman.

Ms. Bailey has continued in her role as council member while Long Reach has considered Mr. Lyons' challenge.

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