Proposal to restrict inquiries assailed Council members would need approval to obtain financial data

March 19, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

A spokesman for the Maryland Homeowners' Association yesterday blasted a proposed policy that would forbid members of the Columbia Association's 10-member governing body from seeking certain financial records on their own.

The policy would apply to inquiries made to Columbia's local village associations as well as to inquiries made to outside government agencies, such as school boards.

"It's ridiculous to even propose this," said Lawrence Holzman, a spokesman for the Maryland Homeowners' Association, based in Bethesda.

"What if your U.S. Congress representative had to ask the other members of Congress for permission to go on a fact-finding mission? That's silly."

In Columbia's Long Reach village, an elected official yesterday also called the policy overbearing.

"As a citizen of a free society, I thought it [the proposal] was outrageous," said Cecilia Januszkiewicz, chair- woman of the Long Reach Village Board. "I guess in my view it is an attempt to reduce dissent, and that's appalling."

The policy was proposed Thursday during a meeting of the Columbia Council, the Columbia Association's governing body.

CA, essentially a huge homeowners' association, runs Columbia's parkland and recreational services on an annual budget of about $36 million funded by annual lien payments by Columbia property owners and by usage fees.

Hope Sachwald, one of the two Columbia Council members who wrote the proposed policy, declined to comment on Mr. Holzman's or Ms. Januszkiewicz's opinions.

But she said the policy has been "reworked" and will be discussed at the next scheduled meeting of the council, April 11.

She declined to detail any changes to the policy.

CA President Padraic Kennedy speculated that the policy would be changed to make sure that individual council members do not identify themselves as speaking for the entire council when making such requests.

The proposal was prompted by a recent request for information from all Columbia village associations by Norma Rose, a council member from Wilde Lake, who is considered the most independent voice on the council. She said that, in making that request, she never represented that she was speaking for the entire Columbia Council.

"That's very insulting to suggest that such a thing happened with me," Ms. Rose said. "They're just trying to cover themselves. It's pretty clear what they were trying to do control the flow of information and actions of individual council members."

Under the original proposal, members would need permission from the rest of the council before seeking any information from village associations, all of which receive CA funds, and any outside agencies.

Council members would not have to ask permission to launch requests for information about matters within the village from which each was elected.

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

It would take a two-thirds majority of the council to deny a request, supporters point out.

Each year, part of CA's budget funds programs through Columbia's village associations.

For the recently approved 1997 budget, the Columbia Council will spend $2.465 million on the village associations, their properties and CA staff time devoted to the associations, according to the budget.

Most village association staff members are on CA's payroll. Yet the proposal would not allow Columbia Council members to inquire on their own about specific spending by the village associations unless it involved their own villages.

Ms. Rose said the restrictions on inquiries regarding village associations would hinder her fiduciary duties of watching CA's $36 million budget. The Columbia Council also sits as CA's board of directors.

"I think part of our duty is keeping track of how those funds are spent," Ms. Rose said.

In Long Reach, village board Chairwoman Ms. Januszkiewicz said council members should have the right to make such inquiries of village association budgets.

But she said the inquiries should be made to village boards, which are comprised of elected officials from each village. These boards would then decide what information to release, Ms. Januszkiewicz said.

CA President Kennedy said that under specific management agreements between the village boards and CA, it is up to the village boards to decide what information to release.

"We shouldn't say to them, 'You release this,' " Mr. Kennedy said.

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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