Columbia must focus on schools, property valuesIn a recent...


June 16, 1996

Columbia must focus on schools, property values

In a recent letter to The Sun for Howard, Chuck Rees, president of the Alliance for a Better Columbia, outlined several tasks with which the Columbia Council should concern itself, namely directing the management of CA, assuring better facilities and services, reducing the annual property charges and user fees, making the organization more open, democratic and responsive and paying off its $90 million debt.

While I agree with most of Mr. Rees' points, some need clarifying since there are important perspectives that were not included in his letter.

Virtually all CA meetings are open to the public. (Closed meetings deal with internal personnel issues.) CA is democratic; that is, CA offers the opportunity for residents to speak their minds at Columbia Council meetings scheduled twice each month. There are ample opportunities for change in the makeup of the council because its members serve for only one or two years between elections (depending on each village's bylaws).

Would it be better if we had "one person, one vote" in all villages instead of just Kings Contrivance and River Hill? Sure. But a recent CA-funded pilot program to change the bylaws in Wilde Lake was unsuccessful. CA is responsive, which is why we have such a wide array of facilities, services and personal development opportunities available to residents.

With regard to other issues mentioned by Mr. Rees, simultaneously reducing the lien, reducing user fees and paying off the debt seems impossible since assets devoted to one of these goals adversely affects the other figures -- unless CA increases its emphasis on selling its highly profitable non-resident memberships. Perhaps in the year or so since Mr. Rees left the council, he or his group have developed a workable plan that would help the council achieve the worthy goals he listed. If so, I encourage him to share it.

With regard to a successor for Columbia Association President Padraic Kennedy when he retires, whenever that may be, it seems very likely that the council will soon initiate a multi-year strategic planning process. Planning for CA's future leadership will be part of this process.

NTC Finally, with regard to Mr. Rees' derisive references to my concerns about Columbia property values and related issues, it is important to remember that many of the things we value in Columbia are funded by either the CA lien or by county taxes.

Lower Columbia property values cut both CA revenues and county income, thereby limiting funding for services people have come to expect. (Higher taxes or higher lien assessments can counter such declines only a limited way and tend to further drive down property values.) Since public perceptions about positive or negative changes in the quality of local schools, crime trends and the appearance of our neighborhoods all affect property values, I feel that the council should also concern itself with these issues.

Indeed, I feel CA should actively market Columbia and the Columbia concept. If not CA, then who? Some say the developer should continue to tout Columbia, but as each year goes by, the developer has less economic interest here. Others say Columbia should incorporate -- and bear all the additional costs associated with this course.

Instead, I feel that the "bully pulpit" of the Columbia Council provides what may be nearly ideal means to achieve these desirable goals -- all while preventing the inefficiencies associated with governments steeped in partisan political bickering and grandstanding.

Maybe I'm off-base, but after living all over the United States and in Europe, I think not. Columbia is a special community that celebrates cultural differences in an environment that encourages economic integration and personal growth. Not everything that's been done here is perfect, but overall, I'm proud of how far we've come. I don't want a lack of visionary activity or reflexive fear of change to result in an avoidable decline of an aging Columbia. The elected Columbia Council can, if it's willing to seize the opportunities, be the forum for leadership and activity that can make Columbia "the address of choice in Maryland."

I regret that Mr. Rees doesn't agree with me. However, I believe my thoughts appeal to most Columbians and I encourage them to share their thoughts with their friends and neighbors as well as members of the Columbia Council.

Mike Rethman


The writer chairs the Columbia Council.

Collective bargaining benefits Maryland

It has been a long time coming, but I'm glad state employees finally will be getting a voice in how they are treated by management. We've gone without raises for four of the past six years and thousands have been laid off. The legislature then ignores us and passes this so-called "personnel reform" law, denying us even more rights.

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