The Columbia Association's (CA) governing board this week voted, 5-4, not to send a representative to France for a three-day conference on planned communities -- and some members are questioning CA's entire "sister city" program.
"This is just one tiny tip of the iceberg," Jean Friedberg, who represents Hickory Ridge village on the governing body, said of last week's vote.
The CA -- a huge homeowners association that runs recreation and service programs in Columbia -- has had sister city programs with Cergy-Pontoise, France, for 21 years and Tres Cantos, Spain, for 17 years.
Like Columbia, the two European cities are planned communities.
Each summer, one group of about 20 Columbia-area students spends two weeks in Cergy-Pontoise, while another group goes to Tres Cantos. The students pay their own air fares.
Students from Cergy-Pontoise and Tres Cantos also travel to Columbia.
The association will spend $45,000 this year on the program, according to its budget.
As for the conference in France, Cergy-Pontoise officials had invited a member of CA's governing body, the Columbia Council.
Chairman Joe Merke asked his fellow council members Thursday night to have CA pay to fly him to the conference.
But the majority of the council members present said the trip was beyond what they're willing to spend on the program.
"We didn't want to send the wrong message that international goodwill" is the top priority of CA, said Alex Hekimian of Oakland Mills, who voted against the trip.
Joining him were Friedberg, Cecilia Januszkiewicz of Long Reach, Charles Rees of Kings Contrivance and Norma Rose of Wilde Lake.
Voting for the trip were Merke, David Berson of River Hill, Hope Sachwald of Harper's Choice and Wanda Hurt of Owen Brown. && Council member Ken Puckett of Dorsey's Search was not at the meeting.
Rose said she wants to study alternatives to having CA fund the full cost of the sister city program.
Among them: A private charity would take over administering it or the Howard County government would pitch in.
Many of the students who go on the trips live outside of Columbia, she said.
Like other Columbia Council members, Friedberg said there are merits to the program, which is aimed at developing an understanding of other cultures.
"I'm sure it's a good program," he said. "I've never heard anything bad about it."
But he and others question whether CA should spend so much money on so few residents.
All Columbia homeowners pay a lien to the association.
The owner of a $203,000 house -- the average price in Howard County -- pays $741 annually to the association.
The sister city effort includes two other initiatives that are not as well-known -- an exchange program for adult vacationers and a business exchange program.
Pub Date: 6/29/97