Glasnost in Columbia? Howard County: Fast-forward approach to debate on controversial club stifles opposition.

February 25, 1997

GLASNOST IS OLD news in the former Soviet Union, but the concept still has not fully caught on in the Columbia Council, which oversees recreational facilities in Howard County's planned community. The belief that facts and views deserve an open airing certainly was not apparent at the council's capital budget work session last week to discuss a controversial health club proposed for the village of River Hill.

Chairman Mike Rethman, of Hickory Ridge, seemed more bent on getting through the night's lengthy agenda than on giving council members a chance, perhaps a last chance, to explain why they support or oppose the planned $6.3 million club before a vote is taken tomorrow or Thursday.

Mr. Rethman is among the majority of council members who support the facility. Indeed, the Columbia Association makes a persuasive argument in favor of the club, insisting that the project eventually would pay for itself and then begin to help whittle down the community's huge debt. Other benefits would be to ease crowding at the CA's two existing clubs, the Supreme Sports Club in Owen Brown village and the Athletic Club in Harper's Choice village. Opponents insist that the club would be a waste of money and plunge Columbia deeper into debt. Some of them contend that an expansion of the Harper's Choice club would accommodate the community's needs.

We agree with Mr. Rethman that it would be better to build the River Hill club than not to build it. But we strongly take issue with his handling of last week's work session. The chairman made it clear from the start that the council had a number of items to address in its $12.9 million capital budget and that he wanted to push through the list of topics.

He rushed Councilman Norma Rose when she presented her idea to spend $1.2 million to expand the Harper's Choice club rather than invest $6.3 million. This was the first thoughtful alternative to a new club. Yet little discussion was heard. Perhaps Mrs. Rose and other opponents should have demanded more time.

Mr. Rethman may believe that council members will not change their views. But in the interest of full discussion, he must make sure that every member gets an opportunity to hear and be heard before voting on this project.

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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