Villages to hold council elections

McCarty dispute stands at center of vote's focus

April 09, 2000|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Columbia residents in five villages will go to the polls this week in an election that could determine the future of the Columbia Association and the fate of its president.

The leadership of President Deborah O. McCarty has become the central issue of the Columbia Council contests, with a number of candidates calling for her resignation and for greater openness on the council.

The 10-member council governs the Columbia Association, which operates much like a municipal government, providing services and facilities for the city's 87,000 residents. Council members serve one- or two-year terms.

Four villages -- Harper's Choice, Hickory Ridge, Oakland Mills and Town Center -- have contested council races this year.

While turnout for the elections is usually low, many believe the controversy over McCarty's leadership and the recent demand for resignation letters from all of the association's vice presidents will boost voter participation this year.

"I'm optimistic we are going to have a huge turnout," said Evelyn Richardson, co-organizer for Citizens for Columbia, a recently formed group whose mission is to "get out the vote" and bring about a change on the council board.

"I'm sorry to see the sorry state of the council," said Richardson, a former council member.

But Norma Rose, a former council chairwoman, believes the problem isn't with the people on the council but with the organizational structure of the Columbia Association.

"Some residents think if you change the people, you'll change the mechanism. The opposite is true. The best hope for change is to return the experience, open-minded members of the council who will be willing to make change," she said.

Hickory Ridge

The Hickory Ridge race pits incumbent Jean S. Friedberg Jr., a McCarty supporter, against longtime village board member Miles Coffman.

Friedberg defends the council's handling of the controversy, but he said the group should have communicated better with the community and involved residents in the decisions.

Friedberg, a management consultant and resident of Hickory Ridge for 20 years, said he has made a "substantial difference" during his three years on the council and noted his experience in the corporate world. Friedberg supported the resignation of the association's six vice presidents, saying the timing was "unfortunate" but that it was "unavoidable."

He said his accomplishments include sponsoring a study that resulted in dozens of internal reforms; changing the way the council spends money on capital projects, including the Columbia Gym; and helping plant the seeds for the Columbia Association Web site, which was recently redesigned.

Aside from the organizational crisis, he said, two main issues facing the council are the proposed annexation of the Key property in North Laurel and "middle-class flight" from Columbia: "We don't want to walk away from any of our neighborhoods."

Coffman, a senior program manager for Bank of America, and a 15-year resident of Hickory Ridge, said he would work to "stabilize" the association. He said better communication is needed between the council and village boards.

"We have felt our current council member did not represent our village well," he said.

Coffman said the council holds too many closed-door meetings, and he criticized a recent proposal to censure two members who were critical of McCarty, saying, "You've got to open the process up."

He said the association also should do more for education, such as adopting schools and expanding its before- and after-school programs.

Oakland Mills

Both candidates for the Oakland Mills seat have called for McCarty to resign.

Incumbent Earl Jones is seeking a second one-year term to the board; Barbara Russell, a County Council aide, is making her first run for the council.

Jones, who is retired from the General Services Administration and has been a resident of Oakland Mills for 30 years, said he is seeking re-election because "I love the community."

He said he has worked on a number of issues, including the community's covenant rules, and tried to improve relations with the village boards. He is proud that $1 million will be directed toward Oakland Mills in the coming fiscal year.

But he said the controversy of McCarty's leadership and subsequent actions by the council have interrupted work on other issues.

He has called recent decisions by McCarty and the 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.

He said the new council will have to quickly resolve the question of whether McCarty stays or goes. "We should not spend a lot of time hashing it over," he said.

The council also must decide what its role will be and how openly it will conduct its business.

Russell said she entered the race because of concern about Columbia's older villages.

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