Residents had their final chance to address the Columbia Council last night before they head to the polls today and tomorrow to elect representatives for the coming year.
Only four used the chance.
Unlike other recent meetings, the last council session before the much-anticipated elections -- which could determine the fate of Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty and the long-term direction of the homeowners group -- drew a sparse crowd.
There was little mention of the community controversy over McCarty's leadership and commitment that has caused an uproar in usually quiet Columbia.
Five villages are holding council elections today and tomorrow; votings times and requirements vary by village. The new council term begins May 1.
In Harper's Choice, Tom Forno, the incumbent, is being challenged by Lanny Morrison, a former Columbia Council chairman. Forno has presented his candidacy as a call for the Columbia Association to "shift gears" and to become a more "mature" organization. Morrison, whose slogan is "Leadership -- For A Change," has been running as an outsider who wants more of the council's business done in public. Morrison has called for McCarty to resign.
Hickory Ridge incumbent Jean S. Friedberg Jr. will square off against Miles Coffman, a longtime member of the village board. Friedberg has identified the proposed annexation of the Key property in North Laurel and "middle class flight" from Columbia as top issues for the new council. Coffman wants better communication between the council representative and the village board, and has said he would work to "stabilize" the situation at the Columbia Association.
The Oakland Mills representative, Earl Jones, has drawn a challenge from Barbara Russell, a veteran County Council aide. Jones is running as a "village advocate" who has tried to ask hard questions about McCarty's leadership and commitment. Claiming the council has been "asleep at the wheel," Russell pledged to work more cooperatively with the county, particularly on community revitalization issues.
Both candidates have called for McCarty to step down.
In Town Center, three candidates -- Dennis Lane, Donna Rice and Suzanne Waller -- are vying for the seat being vacated by Council Chairman Joseph Merke. Lane, a commercial real estate broker, has said the Columbia Association should focus more on enhancing its prized open space. Rice has emphasized her 12 consecutive years on the village board, and a need to make Columbia's downtown more "vibrant." Waller, a self-described "consensus-builder," has pledged to launch a 30-day fact-finding mission to "untangle" the recent controversy.
The incumbent in Wilde Lake, Vince Marando, is running unopposed. He abruptly withdrew from the campaign last week, but changed his mind and re-entered the race less than 24 hours later.
During last night's forum, Wilde Lake resident Henry Shapiro said that Columbia of late "seems like the Salem of witch-hunt fame." He said the controversy is rooted in residents' complacency and a "hybrid" form of government that may need to be restructured.
"Let us stop blaming each other and get to work," Shapiro said.
Marando said he hopes the new council will address what he sees as fundamental structural problems within the Columbia Association that prevent it and its president from functioning efficiently.
"I think we have a window of opportunity open now, a real deep window," he said. "If we let that window close -- shame on us."
In addition to Jones, two other council members -- Pearl Atkinson-Stewart of Owen Brown and Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance -- have called for McCarty to step down. Jones introduced a motion last month to remove the president that was defeated, 7-3.
Columbia Council candidates
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 today and tomorrow. Voting regulations vary by village.