Columbia problems inspire grass-roots push

Group urges residents to express displeasure in the voting booth

March 30, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Organizers of a grass-roots group hoping to influence next month's Columbia Council elections urged voters last night to express their dissatisfaction with Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty at the polls.

Jean Moon, a longtime resident and organizer of last night's strategy session, told a crowd of about 125 people that she is "disappointed," "angry" and "embarrassed" by recent events in the planned community. She said residents must elect council members who will hold McCarty accountable and be accountable themselves.

"We need leadership, responsiveness and accountability," said Moon, a co-founder of the group.

In response to a previous contention by McCarty that questions about her leadership and commitment are about "resistance to change," Moon declared: "We are not resistant to change. We want change."

The hourlong meeting at The Other Barn in Oakland Mills was called by Citizens for Columbia, a recently formed group whose mission is to "Get Out the Vote" in village elections on April 14 and 15.

After a brief introduction by Moon and co-founder Mike Riemer, residents broke into groups by village to develop strategies and ask questions of council candidates in attendance.

Residents from Oakland Mills heard campaign pitches from Earl Jones, the incumbent, who is seeking a second term, and Barbara Russell, a county council aide who is making her first run for the seat.

Jones called recent decisions by McCarty and the 10-member council -- including a demand that all six of the association's vice presidents submit resignation letters -- "mind boggling" and said he has voted consistently against them.

Russell countered that the problems at CA didn't happen overnight, and that the council needs "tough, smart leadership."

Both candidates have called for McCarty to step down.

Dennis Lane, a candidate for the Town Center council seat and a columnist for the Business Monthly, said he doesn't have enough information to judge McCarty's performance over the last 19 months, but felt she has made some "colossal bad moves."

"She hasn't sold herself well to this community," he said. "Does she need to go? It may be that it's too far gone."

One of Lane's opponents, Suzanne Waller, a former council representative and village board chairman, said McCarty has not been an effective leader and she lacks an understanding of the community.

"We're not a Fortune 500 company," Waller said. "We're a community. We're a community association."

She said McCarty deserves "due process," but that it may have been a mistake to hire her.

"Or the mistake is on the part of the council for not having a clear transition process," Waller said.

Four villages -- Harper's Choice, Hickory Ridge, Oakland Mills and Town Center -- have contested council races this year. In Owen Brown and Wilde Lake, council incumbents Pearl Atkinson-Stewart and Vince Marando are running unopposed.

Dorsey's Search, Kings Contrivance, Long Reach and River Hill do not have council elections.

Bob Moon, a longtime resident of Harper's Choice and husband of Jean Moon, said that voter participation is so low most years that the elections all but "happen by accident." He called the current situation on the council a "leadership debacle."

"The leadership is just rock-bottom," he said. "We just wanted to get out the vote. We're just working on raising the awareness" of Columbia residents.

Moon plans to support Lanny Morrison, a former Columbia Council chairman whose campaign slogan is "Leadership -- For A Change."

Morrison, who has called for McCarty's resignation, is challenging incumbent Tom Forno.

Residents who attended last night's meeting offered to set up telephone trees, knock on doors and urge their neighbors to go to the polls. Usually, the Columbia elections attract little or no attention.

"The people to blame for this situation are us" for not voting, said Lane. "We allowed it to get where it is."

Council candidates

Elections will be held April 14 and April 15. Voting regulations vary by village.

Harper's Choice:

Incumbent: Tom Forno

Challenger: Lanny Morrison

Information: 410-730-3888

Hickory Ridge:

Incumbent: Jean S. Friedberg Jr.

Challenger: Miles Coffman

Information: 410-730-7327

Oakland Mills:

Incumbent: Earl Jones

Challenger: Barbara Russell

Information: 410-730-4610

Owen Brown:

Incumbent: Pearl Atkinson-Stewart

Challenger: None

Information: 410-730-4744

Town Center (open seat):

Dennis Lane

Donna Rice

Suzanne Waller

Information: 410-730-4744

Wilde Lake:

Incumbent: Vince Marando

Challenger: none

Information: 410-730-3987

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