Lyons hopes for return of 'civility' Election reform would be priority

June 04, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Roy T. Lyons, who spent his entire professional career working out logistics, thought he could reason with an angry group of Wilde Lake village residents.

But opponents of a proposed new $5.2 million golf course that would be built through their neighborhood didn't respond with the "neighborly civility" Mr. Lyons has come to expect after his 25 years as a Columbia resident.

"Golfers are your friends and neighbors, not your enemies. Why do we have to throw rocks at each other," asked Mr. Lyons. "I was hissed and booed. It shocked me."

That village meeting last fall reflected the "bickering, fighting and mean-mindedness" Mr. Lyons sees as permeating public business in Columbia.

It's the kind of thing that prompted him to run for the Long Reach village seat on the Columbia Council in the first place.

From Mr. Lyons' perspective, Columbia politics have only gotten worse since an April 24 Long Reach vote in which he apparently lost a Columbia Council race to incumbent Gail Bailey 386 to 157.

Mr. Lyons protested the long-standing village practice of letting apartment owners cast ballots for each unit they own. On May 14, Long Reach officials agreed that the election had been improperly conducted and scheduled a new election that is set for tomorrow.

Those who know the 71-year-old retired director of logistics for a U.S. Department of Defense research and development laboratory say his temperament and diplomacy will help mollify what he calls a "growing tendency toward negativism and contention."

"I've always found him to be a person of reason and measured response," said Doug Wilson, chairman of the Hobbit's Glen Golf Committee, an advisory board on which Mr. Lyons serves.

"He's a listener who evaluates things, but when he has something to say, he's right on point. He's very conciliatory. He's not hard on one edge of the extreme or another."

But it was his support of the $5.2 million Fairway Hills Golf Course, approved March 1 by the Columbia Council, that has drawn fire from some residents and council members, including Mr. Lyons' opponent, Dr. Bailey.

While Mr. Lyons, who has a master's degree in government administration from George Washington University, acknowledges lobbying both the Columbia Association and the county for years to build another golf course to relieve crowding at Hobbit's Glen, he denies the charge that he is a "one-issue candidate."

"What I'm interested in is those things that enhance the quality of life for those in Columbia," he said, adding that the council may ultimately have to choose between adding amenities or reducing the Columbia Association property assessment.

The nonprofit association charges property owners 73 cents per $100 of assessed value to operate the unincorporated city's extensive recreation facilities and other community programs and services.

Mr. Lyons, who retired in 1987, said he has spent his volunteer time on the golf committee. Also, for each of the past 16 years he has organized and led a two-bus tour of predominantly black colleges in the South for about 90 students from Howard and Montgomery counties.

Walter C. Brown, a neighbor, a former co-worker and friend for more than 30 years, described Mr. Lyons as a "very fair person, a straight shooter, a deep thinker and a doer who is committed to Columbia.

"He's a diplomat," Mr. Brown said. "He has a way of convincing people to do things."

Mr. Lyons wants to attack what he views as apathy among Columbia residents and to institute a citywide "one-person, one-vote" rule. But a major obstacle looming in the path of any attempt at election reform in Columbia is the requirement that 90 percent of property owners must approve any covenant amendments.

"I was astounded when I read the covenants," Mr. Lyons said. "You can't remove an idiotic clause from the Long Reach covenants without a 90 percent vote, and you can't get a 10 percent vote out for the regular election."

A resident almost since the city's founding by the Rouse Co., Mr. Lyons believes the system needs tinkering, not a significant overhaul. He objects to the methods used by critics he calls Columbia's "snipers" -- those who are quick with barbs and who advocate drastic changes. "Our governance is not perfect, but you correct what's wrong," he said.

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