Revolution in Columbia? They upset incumbents, but new members might not stop business as usual.

April 30, 1996

WHETHER THE THREE new members of the Columbia Council can erase the group's reputation as a rubber-stamp for the Rouse Co. is unknown. Seven of the 10 council members are incumbents, so the newcomers won't be able to change much unless they forge some alliances. Then, too, observing council business from the inside may even convince the new members that the council has been making the right decisions in overseeing recreational amenities for Howard County's planned city.

Six spots on the council were up for election a week ago. Only three races were contested, but the challengers won each of those seats. In the village of Oakland Mills, Alex Hekimian beat incumbent Gary Glisan, 201-185. In Town Center, Joseph Merke beat Suzanne Waller, 97-67. In Owen Brown, Wanda Hurt received 178 votes to defeat incumbent Council Chairwoman Karen Kuecker, who received 149 votes, and Susan Mead, who had 117 votes.

As usual, voter turnout was awful. Only 11.5 percent of eligible voters in Oakland Mills cast ballots; 15 percent in Owen Brown and 20 percent in Town Center. That's dreadful for a town whose education level, not to mention its income level, is higher than in most Maryland communities. One would think Columbians would know the importance of selecting the representatives who are supposed to make sure their points of view are presented when their homeowners organization, the Columbia Association, acts.

Important issues must be decided, including how to proceed with a planned $6 million health club in River Hill and whether to build a $2.6 million sports center in Harper's Choice. The council must provide residents with greater assurances that money from homeowners' liens is being spent properly. Columbia has a $90 million debt, but proponents say the amount spent on loan interest is declining.

The needs of older villages, such as Harper's Choice, must be given the same consideration as those of the newest village, River Hill. Some villages actually fear becoming a "slum," if you can use that term to describe any solidly middle-class neighborhood. The new council members were elected because they were perceived as being more sensitive to residents' concerns. For the good of all Columbia, they must be.

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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