Council to fund voting 'experiment'

December 10, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

The Columbia Council voted last night to include about $2,500 in next year's Columbia Association budget for an "experiment" to see whether one village can run a successful campaign to change its voting policy.

The council intends to discuss its proposal with the three villages -- Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills and Town Center -- that have expressed interest in changing voting rights rules to allow one vote per person rather than one vote per household for council and village board elections.

Vice Chairwoman Fran Wishnick of Oakland Mills made the proposal, saying that a "test case" in one village could give other villages an indication of whether such a change can be achieved and how much effort and money would be required.

Changes to village association legal documents require the approval of 90 percent of property owners, a level of consensus many Columbia officials have said is nearly impossible to achieve.

Currently, eight of Columbia's 10 villages base voting rights on property ownership, with one vote conferred for each property lot or condominium owned. Renters also are entitled to one vote.

Individuals or companies owning multiple properties are entitled to one vote for each property. However, a court ruling earlier this year to decide a disputed election for a council seat determined that an apartment building is considered one property and that its owner can have only one vote.

Most village officials from throughout Columbia agreed at a November meeting that an effort to change the covenants, written by the Rouse Co., Columbia's developer, most likely would be expensive, time-consuming and doomed to failure. Some opposed the concept of changing the voting policy, saying Columbia is a homeowners association and not a government.

Councilman Roy T. Lyons, who challenged Long Reach village's council election in which two apartment building owners cast votes for all their units for his opponent, supported the proposal.

"The proposal will illuminate the problem so everyone can see it," he said. "Even if only one village does it, it will come to the attention of the public. Many people aren't aware what the state of their franchise is."

The money, which would vary in amount depending on the size of the village, would cover mailings and printing, said Ms. Wishnick. Columbia Association would provide legal assistance and the village assuming the effort would do the legwork, she said.

Other villages could follow if the effort succeeds in one village, council members agreed.

The 10-member council, elected by village, acts as the board of directors for the Columbia Association, which manages the unincorporated city's recreational facilities, community programs and open space areas.

Two villages -- Kings Contrivance and River Hill -- allow one vote per resident of voting age.

The council also discussed a citizens committee's recommendations for improving operations and increasing revenues at Columbia's 21 outdoor pools. Several members agreed that the association should try to make more profit on food and beverage sales and possibly contract out for the service.

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