Oakland Mills candidates vie for chance at change on council

March 22, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

No matter who wins a seat on the Columbia Council from Oakland Mills next month, the village will have an advocate for change.

At the top of the list for two newcomers running for a spot on the 10-member council, which serves as the board of directors for the nonprofit Columbia Association that runs the unincorporated city of 80,000, is the association's $32 million budget.

Gary Glisan, a village board member, and Neil Noble, a member of the Resident Architectural Committee, also say they want to increase participation by residents and to decide once and for all whether Columbia ought to become an independent city.

Mr. Glisan and Mr. Noble are the only candidates in the April 23 election to replace Council Vice Chairwoman Fran Wishnick, who is stepping down after three years on the council.

The only other council election in east Columbia is in Owen Brown village, where council Chairwoman Karen Kuecker faces a challenge from Barry Blyveis, who filed for the race yesterday, the village's deadline for entering.

Council members Roy Lyons of Long Reach village and Chuck Rees of Kings Contrivance, are heading into the second year of their two-year terms.

Mr. Noble says he wants to "return this 'government' to the people. It may sound like '60s rhetoric, but it's true. The Columbia Council is a very secretive body. I don't know why."

To improve communications, he would sponsor monthly informational meetings and "wake some people up and let them know what's going on."

Mr. Glisan agrees that elected representatives should do more to involve residents, saying that the village board sometimes has difficulty gauging community sentiment because few residents participate. He also says the council should become more involved in assisting residents in making repairs to their homes to comply with village covenants.

Mr. Glisan, 48, an independent computer consultant, says he noticed shortcomings in the council's budget process and in how members work with each other. Mr. Glisan sat in on the council's three work sessions and the March 1 adoption of the association's $31.8 million operating and $5.8 million capital budgets.

"I sensed a lot of feeling, but I sensed there wasn't the depth of understanding of issues concerning the budget that there should be. Issues should be based on fact, not feeling," he says.

Based on his experience preparing budgets for a defense contractor, Mr. Glisan says he judged the council's budget process to be flawed. Many objectives council members pursued during the budget review should have been proposed much earlier in the process and delivered to association staff for guidance in preparing the spending plan, Mr. Glisan says.

Few strides, Mr. Glisan says, were made toward building consensus or reaching compromise on issues that divided members.

Mr. Noble, 46, a contract administrator for a residential construction company, says he'd like to reduce the association's capital expenditures, property charge rate -- now at 73-cents per $100 of assessed value -- and $87 million debt. He says he also wants to ensure that contractors hired by the association offer the best deal, since the Columbia Association has no competitive bidding process.

Mr. Noble acknowledges he's ruffled a few feathers since moving to Columbia nearly four years ago by speaking his mind or writing letters to local papers, often about the lack of enforcement of Columbia's property covenants.

"For most council members, it's easier to go along than to question. I choose to question, loudly and long and often," says Mr. Noble, a member of Alliance for a Better Columbia, an advocacy group that frequently criticizes the association. "People need to know where their money is going."

Mr. Noble says he believes Columbia could be better off if it incorporates as a municipality or special tax district, options that he says should be fully investigated.

Mr. Glisan says the issue is contentious, but agrees that it should be addressed.

"There's not enough information to make a decision one way or another, but I do feel a decision has to be made relatively soon," he says. "Residents have to decide what we want Columbia to be."

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