A Columbia Council work session began yesterday in the spirit of a Sunday brunch - coffee and Danish, casual attire and a broad agenda for brainstorming. It wound down about five hours later with two council members yelling at each other over progress - or a perceived lack of it - in the formation of a committee.
Councilman Vincent Marando of Wilde Lake accused Chairman Lanny Morrison of Harper's Choice of trying to block creation of a governance structure committee. Morrison said Marando saw "plots" where there were none.
"I have to go home to work on my conspiracy," Morrison said as he left the meeting at Columbia Association headquarters.
Marando is pushing for formation of the committee, which would explore alternatives to the Columbia Association's structure. The homeowners association provides recreational amenities and other services to Columbia's 87,000 residents, and critics say the community has outgrown the quasi-governmental structure created by developer James Rouse 33 years ago.
The committee would consider a range of changes, including lengthening council terms or making Columbia an incorporated city, Marando said.
Earlier this month, Marando gave council members a proposed committee charter, a blueprint for forming the panel. The proposal spells out such things as how many people would serve on the committee and for how long.
At the work session, Marando complained that the council wasn't moving quickly enough on the matter.
He was addressing Councilwoman Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills, but his comment was aimed at Morrison.
"I find some of the council members here are being less than forthcoming on the issue of governance," Marando said.
"This effort has been resisted since the time we selected the chairman."
Morrison replied: "If you've got something to say to me, say it to me. Don't say it to Barbara.
"There ain't no plot here. There's nothing going on in the background," Morrison continued.
Morrison said Marando ignored his suggestions for the committee, including one that would prohibit it from seeking new legal opinions, at association expense, on topics that the association has paid lawyers to research.
Earlier in the meeting, Marando was frustrated that the council was listing specific goals instead of exploring broader philosophical questions about the association's purpose and structure.
"I really think we're jumping on the train as it's moving, and I'm not sure where it's going," Marando said.
Marando and Morrison had exchanges over how the philosophical questions fit into the work session agenda.
At one point, Morrison accused Marando of "having a cow." At the time, Marando said he wasn't"having a cow," but there was no denying his anger later about the charter matter.
"There are structural defects in this organization that, if we don't address them, we're going to see them 10 years from now," Marando said, his voice raised. "Now I'm having my cow!"
The council did not discuss the substance of the committee proposal or act on it.
The rest of the meeting was spent creating a list of goals and discussing the association's economic model, a long-term financial-planning tool.
The goals - which not every council member agreed with - include hiring an association president by December, developing benchmarks to assess the performance of association facilities and programs, developing a policy for budget surpluses and improving communication with the public.