Mother Columbia? In Stalinist fashion, Columbia Council seeks to stifle debate.

March 19, 1996

A SUGGESTION THAT members of the Columbia Council get permission from that body before requesting any information from government agencies and boards in Howard County is ridiculous. Almost all information held by the school board or any other county agency is public information and should, upon request, be provided to the public within a reasonable period of time. Citizens of the county don't lose their right to ask for information just because they're on the Columbia Council.

The council was presented with a proposal at its March 14 meeting that would require each of its 10 members to get permission before individually asking agencies for any information about matters outside the village he represents, even if the information concerns groups that receive funds from the Columbia Association. Proponents of the proposal say they want to avoid queries by individual council members that "could create an embarrassment for the council or could have an adverse impact on council interaction" with other organizations.

The proposal's supporters act like they're in the old Soviet Union, where one expected such despotic demands. The people who live in the villages the council members represent expect them to ask questions and receive answers. Council members aren't supposed to walk in lock-step in making their decisions about Columbia. For them to make their individual assessments about the direction of the planned town, members must be free to ask all the questions they want, when they want, not when the rest of the council tells them they can.

The council did not immediately vote on the proposed policy, instead sending it to a Columbia Association attorney for review first. That lawyer should tell the council members that they can't legislate away a person's rights. This misguided attempt to stifle "embarrassing" questions appears to be a way to bury initiative. "Embarrassing" questions are usually asked when people don't have enough information. The council should not be making it BTC more difficult for its members to get information every citizen should have. This proposal suggests some council members are so afraid of new ideas affecting their villages that they want to limit access to information that might support the need for change. Their hero must be Stalin.

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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