Panel discusses series of reforms

Creating salaries, changing structure among changes eyed

November 12, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Looking for ways to make Columbia run more efficiently, some members of the Columbia Council are discussing reforms ranging from creating salaries for their positions to changing the community's governing structure.

One possibility is to separate the elected Columbia Council from the Columbia Association's board of directors. Such a move would reduce the council, which serves concurrently as the association board, to an advisory body without the authority to approve budgets or make other financial decisions.

Another idea is to compensate council members for their work -- possibly as much as $30,000 a year. Council positions are now unpaid.

During the public comment portion of last night's council meeting, former Columbia Council Chairman Lanny Morrison criticized members for considering such reforms -- which have yet to be discussed publicly -- and vowed a recall effort against anyone who voted for them.

"Somewhere you have lost your compass, and if you continue that way, I'm sure that you will lose your minds," he told council members. "The Columbia Association is not about you."

The issue of creating separate entities is tied to a less contentious proposal: having all council members elected at the same time for two-year terms. Seven of the 10 representatives now serve two years at a time -- the others are elected annually -- and elections are staggered.

"We really can't function in the most efficient manner because there's no continual body," said Cecilia Januszkiewicz, Long Reach council representative.

To move to two-year terms, each village would have to vote to change its bylaws, a difficult task in a community in which few people cast ballots in local elections.

Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, council vice chairwoman, favors two-year terms, but not if they are brought about by changing the way the city is governed.

"It takes away from the concept of Columbia as it was set up," she said of a separate board of directors. "It could possibly eliminate the council level, and you might as well if you take the authority away from them."

Changing the system should be up to the villages, she said. Having a "routine corporate board" make all the financial decisions would "eliminate the community level that's so important to a homeowners association."

Shelby A. Tucker King, the Columbia Association counsel, has been asked to research ways to establish two-year concurrent terms.

Januszkiewicz called separating the two bodies a "last resort" and said many members of the council likely would oppose it.

"The intent is not to separate the board from the council," she said. "The intent is to have people on two-year terms."

The issue of compensation has been discussed only informally, but it has drawn widespread criticism from the villages and some council members, including the vice chairwoman.

"I personally do not think this is the right time or the right place to even be talking about this," said Earl Jones, Oakland Mills council representative. "Before you start talking about getting paid for something, you ought to know clearly what you're getting paid for. We really and truly have never articulated what we're all about."

Jones said he would not support compensation if it were to come before the council for a vote.

In an interview before the meeting, Morrison called the idea of paying council representatives $30,000 a year "outlandish."

"For better than 30 years, the Columbia Council and board of directors of the Columbia Association has operated very effectively as volunteers," he said. "To me, it's a way of participating and paying back the community in which we live. It should be pure and simple volunteerism."

Jean Friedberg, Hickory Ridge council representative, said he had "mixed feelings" about compensation. On one hand, he said, council members should be rewarded for the long hours they work and the meetings they attend.

"On the other hand," he said, "if we had compensation, or any significant compensation, we might be attracting people to take on the job for the wrong reasons. I feel that would be a loss."

Friedberg said several Hickory Ridge Village Board members support the idea of paid council positions.

Kirk Halpin, the freshman council representative from Kings Contrivance, raised the issue in his bimonthly column in the village newsletter.

"If Columbia Council members received $30,000 per year, would this motivate you to run?" he asked.

Deborah O. McCarty, Columbia Association president, said she was surprised to learn that the council was not compensated when she moved to Columbia last year.

"I think that's a community decision, and there has been no consensus on the council at all," she said.

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