4 villages have contested races for seats on Columbia Council

April 06, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

Hope Sachwald says she's demonstrated that she can "make a difference" for Columbia residents and wants to return to the Columbia Council as Harper's Choice Village's representative.

Her challenger in the April 23 Columbia elections, Laura Waters, says she also could be influential if given the chance to promote "ideas for change" on the policy-making board that directs the Columbia Association (CA), the nonprofit corporation that administers a $32 million annual budget operating recreational facilities, community services and open spaces.

Harper's Choice is one of four villages with contested races for the 10-member council, which includes one member from each village in the unincorporated city of 80,000.

In Wilde Lake, Village Board member Michelle Alexander is challenging incumbent Norma Rose; in Owen Brown, Barry Blyveis is seeking to unseat Karen Kuecker as council chair; and in Oakland Mills, Village Board members Gary Glisan and Neil Noble are vying to fill the position being vacated by council Vice Chairwoman Fran Wishnick.

Council members Mike Rethman of Hickory Ridge Village and Suzanne Waller of Town Center are running unopposed, while representatives from the other four villages are continuing two-year terms.

Ms. Sachwald, a four-year Harper's Choice Village Board member who was appointed by that board to the council last May when John Hansen resigned, says her work helped secure a long-awaited activities center for teen-agers in Harper's Choice's Kahler Hall.

bTC "It wasn't in the original budget. I did whatever I could to get it back in," she says, adding she also was instrumental in obtaining financing for improvements for the Hobbit's Glen swimming pool.

Ms. Waters, who resigned last year after 1 1/2 years on the Village Board over a "disagreement in principle," says her candidacy is prompted by concern over the "divisiveness in Columbia regarding new ideas for change." The council too often bases decisions on opinions and the sometimes "hysterical" reactions of residents, rather than on factual information, she says.

For example, she says, she's disturbed that the council hasn't fully explored a committee's recommendation to set aside an older pool with low attendance out of Columbia's 21 neighborhood pools for adult-only use to see if memberships and revenue would increase.

"What concerns me more than losing money is that some pools are empty and have a whole [CA] staff there," says Ms. Waters, a substitute teacher. "It may turn out it won't work, but I think it's irresponsible to let it continue this way."

She says she was disappointed by the council's rejection of a proposal to have association managers prepare a version of the fiscal 1995 budget based on a 1.5-cent reduction in the city's annual property charge of 73 cents per $100 of assessed value. "You should see what effects it has, then decide," she says.

Ms. Sachwald, a speech-language pathologist at Mount Airy Elementary School in Carroll County, says the council has worked well in the last year to reach "agreement and compromise." She says she brings a "certain amount of harmony and ability to communicate to the council."

The council has placed emphasis on maintaining Columbia's "quality of life" -- keeping facilities in good repair, helping residents comply with property covenants and assuming a larger role in "selling Columbia," to potential residents, Ms. Sachwald says.

"Columbia is a very special place to live. I would hate to see anything ever change that," she says.

However, Ms. Sachwald says she welcomes new ideas, some of which the council has adopted, such as reduced rates for late-night recreational facility memberships.

Ms. Waters advocates several changes, among them revamping the community's voting rules which restrict voting in eight villages to one vote per household, or property lot. "Columbia will not have fair elections until everyone can vote," she says.

Also, she says, the council should set firmer rules over how nonprofit village associations handle reserve accounts. She suggests that villages, some of which have $50,000 or more in savings -- including Harper's Choice -- should target some savings to help lower-income families afford recreational memberships and other CA programs.

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