To say that the drive to incorporate Columbia has been on a bumpy road would be a serious understatement. With virtually no support from Howard County elected officials or Columbia's revered founder James Rouse, and a plethora of other institutions piling on against it, incorporation in the county's planned city has suffered setback after setback. Despite this, the debate over incorporation remains very significant because, no matter what happens, it could shape the future of the city for a long time.
That is why we are disappointed to hear that a study that was to be commissioned by the Columbia Municipal League, proponents of incorporation, may never come to pass. It appears that the University of Maryland Institute for Governmental Studies is having second thoughts about conducting the study because of the lack of support for incorporation among public officials. The institute understandably does not want to toil over a report just to see it collect dust on a shelf.
No decision will be made until after officials meet with members of the Municipal League today. Part of the problem is resources. The institute's staff of eight is stretched thin with other projects in the works, including developing a strategic plan for Ocean City, a public works plan for Laurel and a police study for Calvert County.
Still, the institute should not underestimate its potential role in giving form to the debate. The greatest weakness in the Municipal League's pro-incorporation argument has been its inability to answer critics with specifics of what such a change might bring.
The 36-year-old institute could alter that by providing concrete information from a credible, independent source. Minus that, the public is left with guesswork and propaganda -- which have probably resulted in some of the ambivalence over the issue. Incorporation's precipitous fall has been all the more striking considering the buildup last year.
Unless the Municipal League has already decided to throw in the towel, it will need to do its very best persuasive job when it meets with officials of the institute. The league might consider expanding the study beyond incorporation to include other reforms that might be undertaken in Columbia. If a lack of political support is the problem, that might broaden the group's base.