No more altered bids Columbia: Needed changes being made in way Columbia Association buys goods and services.

May 18, 1998

IT SHOULDN'T have taken so long for the Columbia Association to recognize deficiencies in the way it handles bids and purchases. Many problems noted in a yearlong review of the quasi-governmental homeowners group suggested it was being operated like a much smaller agency, not one representing 85,000 residents.

But as the saying goes, "better late than never." CA has identified problems in its purchasing procedures and is making necessary changes. The Columbia Council will no longer accept late bids, won't alter bids and will solicit multiple written bids on any project or purchase above $3,000.

In other words, CA will operate more like a government, which, for all practical purposes, it is.

With a $49 million budget, the Columbia Association runs everything in Howard County's planned town, from day-care programs to 3,000 acres of parkland.

Reports in The Sun a year ago showed how easy it would be to rig a bid in favor of a friend under the CA's lax procedures. Still undecided is whether pending reforms will include hiring a central purchasing coordinator. But CA President Padraic Kennedy says that is also likely to happen.

Mr. Kennedy, who after 26 years heading the CA is retiring in August, says an analysis of the association's management structure is under way. That study will determine whether a purchasing coordinator should be hired, but Mr. Kennedy said he is almost certain that will be the conclusion.

The council is separately addressing spending by Columbia's 10 village centers. Past reviews of how the village centers spend the $1.3 million they receive annually have been inadequate. For example, CA doesn't know what happened to $100,000 appropriated over several years to the Dorsey's Search center.

Mr. Kennedy said revised contracts for village center managers will include required bookkeeping procedures to prevent such problems. Homeowners paying hundreds of dollars in fees to CA deserve better stewardship of their money.

! Pub date: 5/18/98

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