Rouse vision inspires Columbia Council hopefuls

April 13, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

The two candidates for Columbia Council from Wilde Lake village are both Columbia pioneers who say they want to further the idealistic goals developer James Rouse established for the New Town.

They share some similar goals but have different perspectives.

Councilwoman Norma Rose, 60, who is running for her third consecutive one-year term and also served on the board in the mid-1970s, moved to Columbia in 1968, impressed by the concept of a community with a "superior environment and facilities" where everyone could become involved.

Michelle Alexander, 35, a four-year village board member, grew up in Columbia, moving from California in 1969 with her parents, who believed in Mr. Rouse's promise of an integrated community.

She says she could provide a fresh perspective on the council as a black female who understands the community's young people.

Contested races for the 10-member council, the Columbia Association's Board of Directors, will take place April 23 in Wilde Lake, Harper's Choice, Oakland Mills and Owen Brown villages.

The Wilde Lake candidates say Columbia has strayed from the ideal that encourages the participation of all residents, regardless of income or age. Some residents can't afford recreational memberships or fees for other Columbia Association services and programs, they say.

"I'm very well aware a lot of voices out there are not being heard, particularly members of our community who are low-income and feel their needs are not being attended to," Ms. Alexander says.

She says she wants to see more activities for Columbia's youths that don't require memberships or fees, including options such as a coffeehouse or teen dance club, which could be established either through the association or another private venture.

"Residents say if they're going to have their lien money spent, they'd rather have it spent to help kids," Ms. Alexander says. "I agree we need to control spending and pay out CA's debt, but not on the backs of our children."

Ms. Alexander notes that affordable housing in Columbia is scarce, recommending that the association could work more closely with county government on that issue even though housing is typically outside its purview.

Ms. Rose says the Columbia Association should place a higher priority on "building a sense of community." She has tried to encourage more participation by advocating a more democratic governing process, including instituting referendums and holding "town meetings."

"I'd like to help develop an environment at CA that encourages more people to be involved," Ms. Rose says.

Ms. Rose has been one of the current council's most outspoken members and a persistent advocate for change and closer scrutiny of the association's spending. During the recent budget deliberations, she proposed numerous cuts, and helped enact a program to increase the number of summer camp slots for lower-income children.

She says she was disappointed that cuts weren't made in the $32 million 1995 operating budget submitted by association staff.

"I went on the council to help residents get more value for their assessment dollar," she says. "The assessment is a significant tax. The way it's spent should be closely scrutinized. I've done that."

Ms. Rose says she played a key role two years ago in widening the disparity between recreational membership rates for Columbia residents and nonresidents to help increase the "value" of living in Columbia.

Ms. Alexander, a former broadcast journalist, newspaper editor and teacher who graduated from the University of Baltimore School of Law in December, describes herself as a "consensus builder." She says she worked toward forming coalitions between disparate groups as the former communications consultant to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights organization.

Both Ms. Alexander and Ms. Rose have an eye toward Columbia's future. Ms. Alexander says she wants to have an influence on downtown development, including plans for Symphony Woods, Columbia's central park. She also wants the council to evaluate how to spend money from the annual property charge once all facilities are built.

"CA has a tremendous opportunity to really use community funds to address a lot of needs that exist, serving those in the community who tend to be under-served," Ms. Alexander says.

Ms. Rose agrees that the association's long-range planning must improve to ensure that communities and facilities are maintained. Also, the council must take the lead in evaluating the adequacy of the unincorporated community's system of governance, she says.

"I think if we were starting from scratch now, we wouldn't set up a system such as we have," she says.

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