Columbia Council, villages pledge cooperation

`Fresh start' urged at committee meeting

August 26, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The magic word was "partnership" as a committee of Columbia Council members and village board representatives pledged at its inaugural meeting to take steps to improve communication and cultivate stronger ties.

"I really would like the relationship to be a partnership," said Andy Stack, chairman of the Owen Brown Village Board and vice chairman of the committee.

The meeting was a clear sign that the once icy relations between the Columbia Council, the elected body that governs the Columbia Association, and the villages have begun to thaw.

The council and villages -- which essentially function as the planned community's two branches of government -- were at odds for much of the last council session after the council convened a task force to re-evaluate CA's relationship with the villages but failed to include any village representatives.

Many village leaders resented being left out of discussions on issues ranging from facility maintenance to employee benefits to proposed changes in the management contracts under which the villages operate. Several members of the council conceded at the time that the villages should have been included in the decision-making process.

Last night, Joseph Merke, who serves as chairman of the Columbia Council and the new CA-village work group, called the misunderstanding "unfortunate."

"I think that the council is looked at as being Big Brother, maybe a little too strong-armed," he said. "I'd like us all to understand where that comes from and how that happens and prevent it from happening again."

The committee, which is composed of three members each from the council and the village boards, was created by the Columbia Council earlier this year primarily as a way of reaching out.

The council's representatives are Merke, Jean S. Friedberg Jr. of Hickory Ridge and Earl Jones of Oakland Mills; the village's are Stack, Linda Rossiter, a member of the Hickory Ridge Village Board, and Henry Dagenais, chairman of the Long Reach Village Board.

Committee members also decided last night to offer the village managers a seat on the panel.

Jones urged his colleagues to think of the panel as making a "fresh start."

Stack identified five preliminary goals: define the roles of the council and villages; improve communication; refine the management contracts; examine the budgeting and reporting processes; and define measures of success.

The committee will work toward drafting a document outlining the two bodies' respective responsibilities.

One issue over which the council and villages have clashed is financial oversight. CA provides the village associations with millions of dollars in grant money each year, and some council members, including Friedberg, have pushed for closer scrutiny of those funds.

Stack said the villages have an obligation to spend those dollars responsibly.

The CA-village committee will meet monthly. Its next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 27.

Pub Date: 8/26/99

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