Long Reach renter issue sparks election debate

Januszkiewicz raises need to show lease

April 01, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

A Columbia Council member seeking re-election has angered her opponent by insisting that renters produce proof of residency at the polls.

First-term incumbent Cecilia Januszkiewicz said she is simply making sure that a long-standing requirement -- that renters bring a copy of their lease when they cast ballots -- is enforced during village-wide elections in Long Reach April 17.

"That's what [the rules] specify as the required document," said Januszkiewicz. "I didn't make this up."

But her opponent, Deborah Tolson, who is a renter, thinks the timing of Januszkiewicz's request is suspect.

"I'm reminded of old polling days down South when they tried to make it difficult for voters to register," she said.

Tolson has lived in the Sierra Woods apartment complex near the Long Reach Village Center for two years, and is presumed to have a sizable constituency among renters.

It's unclear what impact enforcing the requirement will have on voting.

"There will be people who won't quite understand," said John Snyder, chairman of the election committee and vice chairman of the village board. "They will arrive without a lease, and we will have to turn them away and that will be an unfortunate thing.

"On the other hand, if [the publicity] increases participation in the village election by bringing in more of our community, then that's a good thing," he said.

Renters have been able to vote in village elections, which usually generate little interest except among community activists. Many simply didn't know -- or care.

After Januszkiewicz raised the issue, Long Reach officials asked the village attorney, Thomas M. Meachum, to review the covenant, bylaws, election rules and other village documents to clarify the voting requirements for renters.

Meachum confirmed that those who do not own property must provide a copy of their lease -- as well as file one with the village -- to qualify to vote.

Long Reach officials announced that finding yesterday. The community association plans to send postcards to every home in the village to notify residents of the requirements.

All voters must provide identification. Only one resident from each household may vote.

Tolson, a village activist who has been involved with the anti-crime "Hot Spot" program, said in her statement of candidacy that she wants to promote "pro-active, `resident-friendly' strategies" and encourage "prompt publication of council actions."

She described her platform yesterday as one of "accessibility, sensitivity and accountability."

Januszkiewicz is stressing her experience in elective office: She has served two years on the council, the 10-member body that governs the Columbia Association, and eight years on the village board, the last three as chairwoman.

She also points out that she has been a homeowner in Long Reach since 1989.

"I think it's unusual, in my experience, for a tenant to be running," said Januszkiewicz. "They're not necessarily permanent residents, or people with more permanent roots in the community."

Long Reach's village manager, Sarah Uphouse, sent a copy of Meachum's review to the managers in the other nine villages.

Those villages may launch a review of their own election rules as a result.

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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