Voter forums draw council candidates Hopefuls divided over association spending priorities

5 seeking 2 seats

Attendance sparse in Owen Brown, Oakland Mills

April 17, 1996|By Dan Morse and Alisa Samuels | Dan Morse and Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

Five candidates for the Columbia Council stumped for votes at two sparsely attended election forums last night.

The forums -- in the villages of Oakland Mills and Owen Brown -- resembled group discussions as much as they did political debates.

At stake are two positions on the council -- there is one other contested council seat, in Town Center -- a 10-member panel that supervises the Columbia Association (CA), the homeowners association that collects liens from Columbia residents and manages their parks and recreation facilities.

One of the residents attending the Owen Brown forum, Ron Griffin, said he was disappointed in the turnout. The CA's annual budget has grown to $39 million, he said, and the council is an important panel.

"These people are making decisions that affect you and your community," he said after the forum.

There, 11 residents listened to three candidates -- incumbent Karen Kuecker, who chairs the council, Wanda Hurt and Susan Mead. The candidates agreed on some subjects but differed on the CA's spending priorities.

In Oakland Mills, 17 residents saw the clear differences between the two candidates -- Gary Glisan, the incumbent, who supports large, new facilities the CA plans to make money, and challenger Alex Hekimian, who feels the CA is long overdue in cutting spending the way governments and businesses have been.

The question of incorporation, whether the planned community make itself a city with a municipal government, arose at both forums.

No one spoke in favor of the idea, but Mr. Hekimian showed the most support. He said the issue should be studied fully and should be decided by Columbia residents and not the council.

The hourlong forum in Oakland Mills touched on a variety of issues that split the two candidates.

Mr. Hekimian said the CA has become arrogant and has lost touch with residents. Mr. Glisan said the CA generally does a good job and responds to Columbia's needs.

"I haven't seen that arrogance," he told the residents.

Mr. Glisan also said the proposed $6 million athletic club in River Hill village is a good idea because it would ease crowding at Columbia's two other athletic clubs and would make money. Mr. Hekimian said crowding could be eased by increasing the fees of non-Columbia residents who use the two existing clubs.

"To me, that [River Hill club] is an unnecessary expense," Mr. Hekimian said.

The crowd seemed divided between the two. In an interview after the forum, James Perry said he was impressed by Mr. Glisan's understanding of details.

"I think Gary has a real clear understanding of the nuts and bolts of the issues," he said.

Manual Fernandez, a 25-year resident of Oakland Mills, said Mr. Hekimian would shake up the "good ol' boy" network among the council and CA members. "Alex sounds like a quiet tiger to me," Mr. Fernandez said.

During the 45-minute forum in the Owen Brown Community Center last night, topics included the costs of recreational membership fees, the CA's budget, tightening enforcement of the town's covenants and maintaining the quality of life in Columbia.

Mr. Kuecker and Ms. Mead offered different strategies for CA spending.

Ms. Kuecker said she prefers that the CA wait until 2000 to cut liens or fees, rather than passing on savings "a penny here a penny there."

Ms. Mead said the CA should spend its money wisely now instead of waiting four more years to make the cuts.

"I'm tired of the CA way or the highway," said Ms. Mead, a member of the small group Alliance for a Better Columbia, which has often criticized the council.

Ms. Hurt, the Owen Brown Village Board chair, said she would "like for us to do more for seniors and youths."

In Town Center, where incumbent Suzanne Waller is being challenged by Joseph Merke, the candidates attended a forum last week.

Voting will be Friday and Saturday in Owen Brown and Oakland Mills, and Saturday in Town Center.

Pub Date: 4/17/96

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