Columbia voters rejected one Columbia Council candidate who favors incorporating the community as a city and another one critical of the nonprofit Columbia Association in an election Saturday that drew a meager turnout.
With races for village board in only four of 10 villages and contests in just two of eight open council seats, several villages needed "bloc votes" from corporations or individuals who own more than one property in order to reach the mandatory 10 percent turnout of property owners.
In most Columbia villages, voting rules allow one vote per home or undeveloped property lot. Failure to meet the 10 percent quorum requires a village to schedule a community meeting to elect representatives.
Incumbent Councilman Gary Glisan of Oakland Mills village -- the only one of six incumbents who was challenged for a seat on the 10-member council -- defeated Barry Mehta, who advocates incorporation, 213-168.
In the race to represent Kings Contrivance village, five-year village board member George Pangburn defeated fellow village board member Lewis Lorton, 128-78. Mr. Pangburn stressed Columbia Association's strengths and residents' satisfaction, while Mr. Lorton questioned the association's efficiency, accountability and openness.
Saturday's election means little in terms of change on the council, which sets budget and policy for the association. Eight of 10 sitting council members will return.
The private association, which has a $33 million budget, is essentially a huge homeowners' organization that imposes an annual levy on Columbia property owners to help pay for recreational facilities, parkland maintenance and community programs.
In one of the two contested council elections, Mr. Glisan's skeptical view toward incorporating Columbia as a city with a government seemed to match voters' opinions.
"It was very difficult to say if that was a full-blown issue or not," Mr. Glisan said, "but that probably would be the singular issue" clearly separating the candidates.
Oakland Mills voters said they were concerned incorporation could lead to higher costs and harmful divisions within Howard County.
"I don't think we should incorporate," said Ronald Ledford, shortly after casting his vote Saturday at the Oakland Mills Village Center. "Sometime in the future it may be different, but the county as a whole is in too bad a shape [financially]. We don't need all this infighting."
Added resident Chris Rogers: "The community seems to work as it was intended."
Mr. Mehta -- whose wife, Charu Mehta, won a seat on the Oakland Mills Village Board -- ran on a platform that included instituting competitive bidding on contracts and reducing the Columbia Association property levy and $90 million debt. But his stance on incorporating may have hurt his chances.
James V. Clark, president of the pro-incorporation Columbia Municipal League, predicted as much before the election, saying affiliation with the group may be the "political kiss of death."
The league is circulating a petition to place the incorporation question on the ballot as a referendum.
But Mr. Mehta played down the incorporation issue, attributing his defeat to the fact that the incumbent is better known in the community.
In the Kings Contrivance race, Mr. Pangburn said his victory was "reflective of the fact that people are generally happy about the way CA is run. That was the key difference between myself and [Mr. Lorton]."
Mr. Pangburn also sent a mailing to all residents who voted in last year's Kings Contrivance election.
Mr. Lorton has criticized the association for "hiding" information from residents and questioned whether residents are getting their money's worth. The first-year village board member said his opponent may be better known in the community and said, "He campaigned, I didn't."
Generally, the elections were marked by low turnout throughout Columbia.
Hickory Ridge, Harper's Choice and Owen Brown villages each needed bloc votes from corporations owning multiple homes or undeveloped parcels -- such as the association, Columbia Builders and the Rouse Co. -- to exceed the 10 percent minimum. Of those villages, only Hickory Ridge had a council election, but incumbent Michael Rethman was unopposed.
The Florida owner of a 184-unit condominium complex in Hickory Ridge cast 184 votes to help that village exceed its quorum of 10 percent of property owners, or 337 ballots. The village tallied 142 votes from residents and 291 votes from corporations.
"I think the school holiday hurt us. People were on vacation," Jane Parrish, Hickory Ridge village manager, said of the turnout. "We didn't have as good a turnout as we should have had even with a [village board] race."
Owen Brown village needed 75 votes from the Columbia Association to exceed its quorum by six votes.
Under an unwritten rule, corporate votes generally have not been used to determine a winner, but have been added to the votes cast by individual property owners in order to meet the quorum requirement.