Financial autonomy of villages targeted Proposal would give CA more control

all centers audited

March 11, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Council is considering a proposal to remove financial autonomy from Columbia's 10 village centers amid questions of possible financial mismanagement at one center and an audit that is examining the books at all centers.

Anne Darrin, village manager of Dorsey's Search, resigned Feb. 27, a few weeks after the Columbia Association launched an audit of her center's records, according to Pam Mack, a CA spokeswoman.

In a written statement, Darrin, who had been the center's manager since 1989, said, "The village ran very well under my management, and the results all support this."

Darrin wrote that "some of the methods that I have always used have come under question. I also believe that as the Manager I must accept responsibility for any actual or apparent problems."

This week, CA began a $40,000 audit of the financial records of Columbia's nine other village centers. The homeowners' association, which provides about $2 million in grants each year to the centers, is authorized to conduct audits at any time, Mack said.

Some village managers say the audit, coupled with the council's move to control their finances -- a proposal it will take up at a meeting tomorrow night -- calls into question their integrity.

"I'm angry [about the audit and the proposed changes], because I think our trust has been eroded," said Wendy Tzuker, Harper's Choice village manager. "I think we could all be painted by the same broad brush here."

A proposal that would make the centers more accountable to the CA for funds they receive was offered by Jean Friedberg, a council member from Hickory Ridge, who also has long questioned the funding inequities among the centers.

Friedberg suggests giving CA more control.

Under his proposal, instead of reporting to the respective village boards, the village manager would report to CA, which would exercise more control over the village's finances.

David Berson, a council member from River Hill, said: "This doesn't take any power away from the villages, but it makes sure there are financial controls in place."

Grants from CA

The village centers receive grants from the CA, based on their previous spending and income. The centers, under the direction of village boards, are free to spend the money as they see fit.

According to CA records, the biggest grant -- almost $400,000 -- is going to Long Reach, Columbia's largest village with more than 14,000 residents.

The villages supplement the grants with their own income, much of which comes from renting each center's facilities for meetings and other gatherings.

Since the age and size of the facilities vary, there are inequities among villages from that income source. Dorsey's Search, for example, has one of the more desirable -- and profitable -- meeting rooms.

The council is also considering a proposal that would make funding agreements for village centers applicable for three months, instead of a year.

Last 5 years audited

Council members who initiated the audit at Dorsey's Search refuse to say what prompted them to look into the records there or to widen the audit, which covers the last five years.

Some CA officials say Darrin did not follow CA's financial practices.

Dorsey's Search, which will get $247,868 from CA next year, is the only village center that does not have a separate bookkeeper.

"It's like the IRS," Cecilia Januskiewicz, a council member from Long Reach, said of the audits. "Every once in awhile, they come in and do an audit of someone."

Pub Date: 3/11/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.