Few seats contested as voting nears Homeowners to elect members of council, 10 village boards

Events set to lure voters

Oakland Mills race for council spot may stir most interest

April 14, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

In Columbia's annual elections, little can be taken for granted -- or so Alex Hekimian, a candidate for the planned community's governing body, found out last week.

Mr. Hekimian -- a longtime thorn in the side of the Columbia Council, the elected board of the Columbia Association (CA) -- was campaigning Monday night at the Oakland Mills Village Center for votes in next weekend's balloting.

Barely 10 percent of Columbia's homeowners bother to vote in its elections. And for many who had come to buy milk, return videos and pick up their dry cleaning at the village center, Mr. Hekimian had to begin with the basics:

Voting is April 19 and 20. I'm running for the Columbia Council. That's a 10-member body that oversees the Columbia Association -- the homeowners association that collects liens on your property. Please vote. So few people do.

Then a security guard booted him from the parking lot.

"I'm concerned that I'm being singled out," Mr. Hekimian com- plained later.

Not so, said Elizabeth Buckley of the Rouse Co. affiliate that owns the village center. Mr. Hekimian failed to fill out a registration form -- a process that takes only a few minutes -- required to use the property as about 50 politically oriented people and groups did last year with no problems, Ms. Buckley said.

"It's private property," she said.

But Mr. Hekimian says that means many Columbia Council candidates have no public place to campaign without first getting permission from the community's developer. The new town's village centers essentially are its downtowns, and they're all privately owned.

"It's another obstacle that is in the people's way of democracy," Mr. Hekimian said.

Democracy is not a big issue in Columbia, judging from its elections.

Contests are especially rare at Columbia's smaller governing bodies, the 10 village boards. This year only one village board race will be contested. At three of the village boards, there are more openings than candidates.

As for the council's 10 members, four are in the middle of terms and three are unopposed. That leaves just three contested seats.

In Oakland Mills village, Mr. Hekimian is challenging incumbent council member Gary Glisan.

Mr. Hekimian, a traffic planner for Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission in Montgomery County, is president of a watchdog group called the Alliance for a Better Columbia. He's calling for major changes and cost cutting at the homeowners association.

Mr. Glisan, a computer consultant for Glisan and Associates in Columbia, has served on the volunteer council for two years.

He has worked to set up a cut-rate loan program to help struggling Oakland Mills residents repair their homes in order to meet the planned community's rigid covenants. And his supporters on the council say no one works harder or understands CA's finances better.

They say he asks tough questions while monitoring CA.

"He understands finances," said Mike Rethman, who represents Hickory Ridge village on the council. "He's very intelligent and he cares deeply about Columbia."

Mr. Glisan, who plans to do most of his campaigning this week, did not want a Sun reporter to accompany him while he spoke to voters. He also refused to answer questions for this story.

He said the newspaper's coverage has cast CA and the Columbia Council in an unfair and negative light. "I don't want to add any more fuel to the fire," Mr. Glisan said.

Mr. Glisan and Mr. Hekimian are scheduled to attend a candidates' forum at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Other Barn in the Oakland Mills Village Center.

In Owen Brown village, incumbent Karen A. Kuecker, the council chairwoman, is being challenged by Susan Mead and Wanda Hurt.

Ms. Kuecker lists her two priorities as providing programs for elderly residents and enforcing Columbia's covenants.

Ms. Mead, also a member of the Alliance for a Better Columbia, said she would push to lower fees that Columbia residents pay to use athletic facilities.

Ms. Hurt, a longtime community activist who last year switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party, said the council should further study its plans to build a $6 million athletic club in River Hill village on the western edge of Columbia.

The three are scheduled to attend a candidates' forum at 7: 30 p.m. Tuesday at the Owen Brown Community Center, 6800 Cradlerock Way.

In Town Center, incumbent Suzanne Waller is being challenged by Joseph Merke in what is believed to be the area's first contested Columbia Council race in more than 20 years.

Ms. Waller said bringing more county police patrols to Town Center is her top priority.

Mr. Merke said the council should control spending by not building more athletic facilities.

As in the past, each village likely will scramble to get the minimum number of voters -- usually 10 percent of all property owners -- necessary to validate the elections.

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