Plan to curb council members' research is killed It would have restricted how they contact agencies

March 29, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Council killed last night a controversial proposal that would have placed restrictions on council members seeking information from "external" agencies such as village associations and school boards.

The issue has been a contentious one for the council since it was proposed at a meeting this month.

Already, challengers in next month's three council elections have charged that the proposal shows how the majority of council members do not want to question the Columbia Association (CA), the huge homeowners' association that it governs.

At last night's meeting, the council made the policy an item of business even though it was not on the agenda.

"I think it needs to be done [brought up] before the elections," Hope Miller Sachwald, a council member from Harper's Choice village, told the rest of the council.

Council Vice Chairman David W. Berson agreed, saying later that some candidates had raised it as an issue.

Under the policy, individual council members would have had to obtain approval from the council before seeking information from "external" agencies. The policy would not have applied to council members seeking information about the villages they represent on the council.

The proposal was written by Ms. Sachwald and Gary Glisan of Oakland Mills village, who presented it at a March 14 meeting.

Several other council members spoke in favor of it that night before putting the matter on hold.

State and national homeowners' rights activists assailed the proposal, saying it smacked of censorship.

The policy was quickly rewritten to state simply that when a council member requests information, that member must clearly state that he or she is not speaking for the entire council.

But the council decided last night not to approve that revised policy after several members said it was not necessary. "We're trying to legislate common courtesy here," said Mike Rethman of Hickory Ridge village.

Eventually, the matter died when the council voted unanimously to adjourn.

The 10-member council also sits as the Columbia Association's board of directors. The council gathered last night for a board meeting -- and had to call a special meeting of the Columbia Council in order to bring up the information-request proposal.

In other business, CA Vice President Rafia P. Siddiqui presented an optimistic report on the association's finances.

Although total debt will increase to $93.5 million by fiscal 1998, it will start to decline dramatically after that, Ms. Siddiqui predicted.

By 2006, she estimated total debt would be $48.9 million.

CA spends 24 percent of its revenue on interest payments, compared with 12 percent for Howard County government, according to CA and county officials. But CA had to borrow money during the 1970s, when it was just getting started, and does not benefit from tax-free municipal bonds, CA and council officials said last night.

"The finances of CA are better today than they have ever been in CA's history," Mr. Berson said.

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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