Three Columbia Council members complained last night that they were being kept in the dark about negotiations to lease the Columbia Horse Center.
The Columbia Council voted in September to seek someone to lease the troubled recreational facility.
Since then, the council members said, they had received little or no information -- even though Columbia Association staff is apparently close to reaching a deal with the only person who submitted a bid.
"When we are leasing a substantial [property] of the Columbia Association, it is incumbent on us to know the terms," said Councilwoman Cecilia Januszkiewicz of Long Reach.
She made the comment at a meeting of the Columbia Association board of directors, who also serve as council members.
Januszkiewicz complained that she did not even know who was doing the negotiating. She said she met with resistance when she recently inquired about negotiations by e-mail. It was not clear who the recipient of the e-mail was.
"Why do you want this information?" Januszkiewicz said she was asked.
"I am concerned that there is this de- sire not to provide information to the council," Januszkiewicz said. "What are we trying to hide? What's the big secret here?"
Council Chairman Lanny Morrison of Harper's Choice said that he had been kept informed and that there was no intention to hide anything.
"As far as I know, nobody has been told they don't have a right to information," Morrison said. "There's just a question about how to provide information."
On 88 acres off Gorman Road, the horse center has attracted critics in recent years because it loses money and is used by less than 1 percent of Columbia's residents.
The center is expected to lose $353,000 in the fiscal year that ends April 30, according to projections released last night as part of the association's second-quarter report. The projected losses are $162,000 more than anticipated in the budget. The center lost $290,000 last fiscal year.
Nearly all of the association's facilities are subsidized, but most have higher usage.
Councilwoman Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills also complained that she had not been informed and asked that the board discuss the matter in executive session late last night. The board agreed, though Councilman Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance expressed fear that the council's involvement would imperil negotiations with what he said had been the lone bidder.
"After much time and effort, only one or two bids came in," Halpin said. Only one of those was considered "responsive," he said, meaning it met the requirements of the bidding process.
"It's not like we have thousands of companies here," Halpin said. "If we open this up, I think we'll lose that person. ... We've already negotiated the best deal possible. We go back to them [with another offer], they say, `No way.' I have faith in the staff."
Councilman Vincent Marando of Wilde Lake expressed frustration that he did not have as much information as Morrison and Halpin.
"We're not having an equal card game here," Marando said.
But Councilman Miles Coffman of Hickory Ridge said he believed that after the September vote, the matter was in the Columbia Association staff's hands.
"I thought it was for staff to negotiate the best deal," he said.