The Columbia Council and the unincorporated city's 10 village associations are divided over whether Columbia should institute any type of referendum allowing residents to vote on council decisions.
The council debated last night pros and cons of a resolution to allow a nonbinding advisory vote on any matter under the authority of the council, which serves as the Columbia Association's Board of Directors.
Under the proposed resolution, a nonbinding vote would be a measure of opinion, but would not change, or substitute for, a council decision.
The council has been trying to craft a referendum proposal since last summer, when it began deliberations on possible changes in the association's charter.
The council had earlier considered, then dropped, the idea of instituting a binding referendum on certain decisions such as expensive capital projects, rate changes at association recreational facilities and changes in the annual property charge rate.
Two council members -- Karen Kuecker of Owen Brown village and Suzanne Waller of Town Center -- said that elected boards in the villages they represent opposed the resolution.
However, Councilwoman Norma Rose of Wilde Lake village, who has spearheaded the referendum effort, said her village board supported the concept and suggested that the proposal be strengthened.
Ms. Kuecker said the Owen Brown village board opposed the measure partly because it would establish two systems of voting.
In eight of Columbia's 10 villages, voting rules permit one vote per household, or property lot, rather than one vote per person. The referendum proposal would allow one vote per person, the )) standard in two villages.
Councilman David Berson of River Hill village, which permits all residents over age 18 to vote, responded that most of Columbia has a "second-class voting system currently" and that the referendum proposal could spur a movement toward a "first-class voting system."
Ms. Kuecker said the Owen Brown village board viewed the referendum as a "possible mechanism to divide the community" and that the goal should be to "unite the community."
"That's amazing to me," said Ms. Rose. "If this is divisive, then any election is divisive. I can't see anything more divisive than being divided into 10 little villages, each with their own governing body."
The Owen Brown village board also believes that elections should stay within villages, rather than Columbia-wide, Ms. Kuecker said, adding that she'd oppose the resolution as proposed.
Mr. Berson disagreed with that view.
"I think elections belong to residents, not to villages."
Council members are elected by their villages to set policy and the budget for the association, which charges Columbia property owners an annual fee to manage recreational facilities, community programs and open space.
The council plans to vote on the resolution at its April 14 meeting.