Members may need permission for data Council considers limiting information from agencies

March 15, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Council, a 10-member elected body that oversees the Columbia Association, is considering a policy that strictly limits individual council members in seeking information from agencies such as school boards and county governments.

Under the proposed policy designed to avoid requests that "could create an embarrassment," according to the proposal members would need council permission before asking agencies for information about matters outside the village they represent.

The proposal, debated during last night's council meeting, would even cover requests for information about village boards and associations, which receive Columbia Association funding.

The intent of the proposal is to avoid having members make inappropriate requests that do not represent the desires of the majority of the council, say its supporters on the council.

But Norma Rose probably the council's most outspoken member said the proposal shows how hostile the council is to dissenting opinions.

"It's like saying, if you want to ask for information, you have to first ask, 'Mother, may I? or 'Father, may I?' " said Ms. Rose, who represents the Village of Wilde Lake.

She also said the policy probably would violate a council member's right to free speech. "And it's not just our right, it's our responsibility to inquire," she said after the meeting.

The council did not vote on the policy and decided to allow a Columbia Association attorney to review it. The council plans to take the matter up next month.

A national expert on homeowner associations said yesterday he has never heard of such a policy imposed on membership bodies that monitor homeowners associations. (The Columbia Council serves as the board of directors of the Columbia Association.)

"This is just guaranteed to produce suspicion, paranoia and mistrust," said Evan McKenzie, author of "Privatopia, Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government." "How can you build a sense of community when you have such restrictions?" he asked.

But supporters of the measure said individual council members should at least let the rest of the council know what information they are seeking, particularly when it pertains to the village associations, where certain information such as salaries is considered confidential.

And if the requests are valid, they will be approved, supporters say. It would take a two-thirds majority of the council to stop the council member from making the request to outside agencies.

In addition, council members would be free to make inquiries to ** outside agencies about matters within their village, according to the proposal.

"I don't view this as a big issue. You're just trying to legislate common sense," said Gary Glisan, who represents Oakland Mills.

When making requests for information, he said, "You just have to work through the minefields so you don't ruffle feathers."

Or, as the proposal states: "A request from an individual council member that is ultimately destined for an external organization such as a village board; local, state or federal agency; or commercial enterprise could create an embarrassment for the council or could have an adverse impact on council interaction with that organization."

Council members who do not follow the policy would be subject to "formal censure," according to the proposal.

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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