Reaction to heated criticism varies on the Columbia Council

Planning Board member said group lacks vision

January 29, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

A Howard County Planning Board member's blistering criticism of the Columbia Council at a public hearing Wednesday night provoked varied reactions from council members yesterday, with one calling it a "tirade" and another saying it was something that "needed to be said."

David Berson, vice chairman of the 10-member council, said the comments by Joan C. Lancos about the council's "lack of direction" and penchant for "micromanagement" brought to light what he called a "simmering" problem on the council.

"I think the message was one that needed to be said," Berson said yesterday. "I think that she is broadly correct in much of what she says, but that the council needs to be engaged rather than confronted."

Lancos, a former Hickory Ridge Village Board member and Columbia Council representative, accused the council before a crowd of more than 50 residents and officials of micromanaging "everything that CA does" and lacking "vision" and "business experience."

"There are members of the council who exercise tremendous micromanagement over senior staff by virtue of the committees that they are heads of," said Berson, who declined to name the members.

Berson said he expects the council to address the issue after the Columbia Association's fiscal year 2000 budget is adopted next month.

Norma Rose, the Columbia Council chairwoman, would not comment on the record on the substance of Lancos' criticisms.

"We hold public hearings so people will speak their minds," she said. "I'm not putting her in any different category than anyone else who came before the council last night."

But Rose added: "She claims to speak for all of Columbia. I would be interested in knowing why she would make that claim."

Lancos accused some council members of having "personal agendas" and "little knowledge of how the village system operates."

She made a veiled reference to council representatives Alex Hekimian of Oakland Mills and Chuck Rees of Hickory Ridge, who were involved previously with the Alliance for a Better Columbia, a watchdog group.

"Who is watching the council now that the fox is in the henhouse?" Lancos asked.

Hekimian dismissed Lancos' comments yesterday as a "personal thing. I didn't hear a chorus of people feeling that way."

Hekimian said Lancos' criticism in particular of the association's new purchasing policies, implemented last year to correct spending irregularities uncovered by The Sun, are unfounded.

"Some people call it micromanagement, others call it fiduciary responsibility," he said.

Rees did not return phone calls seeking comment.

There has been concern on the council that some members have been asking Columbia Association staff members for too much information. The topic was raised at the council's retreat last fall.

"The question is, how much is too much?" said Cecilia Januszkiewicz, Long Reach's council representative. "If asking questions is deemed to be micromanagement, then, no, I do not believe that to be micromanagement.

"We all owe a duty to the community," she said, "and I do not think that anyone takes that duty lightly."

Joseph Merke, the representative from Town Center, said each council member should consider Lancos' criticisms and evaluate their merit.

"If that's her viewpoint, it's sure worth thinking about," said Merke, who served on the council with Lancos. "And I hope all council members will do that and try and determine whether, in their mind, if what she was saying was correct about each one of us."

Pub Date: 1/29/99

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