A City Hall for Columbia?

October 07, 1994

Columbia's petition drive to incorporate the city of 80,000 residents is showing promise in more ways than one.

Volunteers manning polling places during last month's primary report that collecting signatures was a breeze. The estimate is that 1,300 have signed on so far. That's far from the goal of 10,000 signatures, but it's a healthy start.

The drive has had the added benefit of revitalizing flagging interest in a movement that would dramatically change Columbia's governance. Recent attempts by one of Columbia's 10 villages to institute a one-person, one-vote election system proved a disappointment when they seemed to flounder for a lack of volunteers.

If there is any interest in the petition drive, which is aimed at putting the question of incorporation before Columbia voters, it could signal some welcomed stirrings among residents. Virtually anything that would encourage residents to abandon their disengagement is worth the effort.

That is not to say that incorporation is the best path for Columbia. After more than a quarter-century, the nation's second largest planned city is showing signs of growing pains. Some residents hope incorporation can restore old ideals the town was founded on, particularly the notion that people of all races and economic levels can live together harmoniously.

But incorporation is a radical step that would do much more than allow residents to deduct from their taxes the annual fee they now pay to the Columbia Association, which runs recreational facilities in town. It could create the kind of burgeoning bureaucracy that is at the crux of so much voter discontent these days.

Unfortunately, the Columbia Association has too often been a reluctant partner in the quest for change in Columbia. Officials, elected and otherwise, have been particularly cool to incorporation. They insist the idea has been discussed in the past and didn't go anywhere.

To that, the only logical response is that times do change and a re-evaluation is probably necessary.

At the very least, the drive for incorporation raises the level of discussion and, at best, will crystallize a course for Columbia to pursue for the next quarter-century.

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