Dereliction of Duty in Columbia

March 03, 1994

The Columbia Council has rubber-stamped a $32 million Columbia Association budget for fiscal year 1995, spending homeowner dollars as if the council members cared not a whit about where the money is going.

The whimpering and excuse-making that passed as the council's deliberations were pathetic. Consider this comment by Chairwoman Karen A. Kuecker:

"I feel confident I know enough about the budget, as much as I want to know. Some council members want to know more. That might be construed by some as micro-management. There's a fine line between how much you need to know and how much you think you need to know."

Ms. Kuecker calls her analysis a "philosophical thing." Perhaps she should consider this philosophical thing: Any council member, particularly the council chair, who points with pride at how little she knows about the budget she is about to act on should resign today. It is anything but micro-management for the council to ask questions of the association's staff about spending. It is, in fact, the council's duty.

Instead, Ms. Kuecker and a majority of council members seem to think that they should defer to the association's full-time managers when it comes to making cuts. We all know how diligent managers are about cutting their own budgets. Following this logic, why have a council at all?

Not that every council member is merely occupying space. Councilman Mike Rethman had the not-so-radical idea of cutting the association's $1.1 million grant to Columbia's 10 independent villages by 1 percent, only to be told it was too late because the villages have already set their budgets for the coming year.

There is a bigger tail than the villages wagging this dog, however. The Columbia Association has been given a virtual blank check for years to maintain the city's green spaces and run its recreational facilities. In doing so, it has spent and borrowed lavishly, outfitting facilities with a broad assortment of bells and whistles, while paying themselves handsomely in the process.

Association staffers may deserve every penny they get. Certainly the community infrastructure they oversee is one of the best around. But that is no reason for the council to sit by passively while residents' dollars are spent. Council members' responsibility is to mind the store. That is why they were elected.

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