Two Columbia Council candidates in Oakland Mills -- both of whom have called for Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty to resign -- faced the village electorate at a public forum last night, three days before voters will choose their next representative.
Earl Jones, the incumbent, described himself as a "village advocate" who has been part of a minority on the 10-member council asking tough questions about the leadership and commitment of McCarty.
"If you don't care about the villages, if you don't listen to the villages, you're probably going to have big trouble in a leadership capacity," said Jones, who sponsored a motion last month for the president's removal. "I think that we have caused a major change in terms of thinking in Columbia."
Challenger Barbara Russell charged that the Columbia Council has been "asleep at the wheel" and pledged to work more closely with Howard County for support and resources, particularly for community revitalization.
"Our villages have not been strong enough in addressing the county," said Russell, a longtime council aide.
In addition to Oakland Mills, four other villages -- Harper's Choice, Hickory Ridge, Town Center and Wilde Lake -- are holding council elections this weekend. The council term in Oakland Mills is one year; the new session begins May 1.
Jones said he has worked on the council's covenant committee to establish a pilot inspection program for three Columbia villages, including Oakland Mills, and fund a second Columbia Association staff attorney to help address a backlog of covenant cases. He also said he has secured hundreds of thousands of dollars for the restoration of Pushcart Pond and improvements at the ice rink.
Russell, who is making her first run for a seat on the council, reminded residents that she was the first to call publicly for McCarty to step down. She identified deteriorating housing, inequitable schools and safety as top issues in the village.
Both candidates said they support closing the Columbia Horse Center. Both said they would not support the incorporation of Columbia as a city.
Jones, a former village board vice chairman, said Russell hasn't attended any village board or Columbia Council meetings, adding: "Barbara has done a marvelous job of identifying problems that we're already working on."
Replied Russell: "My problem is that things aren't happening soon enough."
Russell also said that no Columbia Council member had attended the county executive's budget hearing, which she thought was a missed opportunity. Jones said he has been part of a three-person minority on the 10-member council that has tried to hold McCarty accountable for her performance over the last 20 months.
Responding to a question about the "animosity" on the current board, and how he would work to mitigate it, Jones said the board had difficulty reaching consensus on most issues. At the same time, he said, its members have no personal animosity toward each other when it comes time to debate issues.
Columbia Council candidates Harper's Choice
Incumbent: Tom Forno
Challenger: Lanny Morrison
Incumbent: Jean S. Friedberg Jr.
Challenger: Miles Coffman
Incumbent: Earl Jones
Challenger: Barbara Russell
Owen Brown (no election)
Incumbent: Pearl Atkinson-Stewart
Town Center (open seat)
Incumbent: Vince Marando
Elections will be held Friday and Saturday. Voting regulations vary by village.