Smart search in Columbia

Participatory: The community's approach to finding a new leader shows its devotion to participation.

January 09, 2001

AS MANY AS 200 Columbians came to Wilde Lake High School on Sunday afternoon to help in the selection of a leader, a new Columbia Association president.

Their questions were invited by the Columbia Council, which will soon pick one of two finalists for the $130,00-a-year job.

But the session had broader implications for Columbia and perhaps for area governments:

Elections or the appointment of important administrators might serve as moments for inviting the public to offer its views.

Though citizens are often charged with apathy, a core group in any community will respond to important challenges with a useful, consumer's-eye critique.

Based on their questions Sunday, people want leadership. They want governing bodies to cooperate.

The CA president's job has been vacant since its previous occupant, Deborah O. McCarty, left last summer amid allegations of a cardinal sin: lack of commitment.

Now the council will choose between Gregory C. Fehrenbach, administrator for the township of Piscataway, N.J., and Michael D. Letcher, city manager of Sedona, Ariz.

Both were passionate, knowledgeable and humble, applauding the participatory ethic they could see and hear before them.

Mr. Letcher was asked if he didn't "palpitate in the night" when he contemplated the Columbia job.

"I like being pushed," he said, "so I like palpitation."

Mr. Fehrenbach said a strong executive wants Columbia's level of participation:

"If you have a stake and input," he said, "then you're more likely to salute the result."

He departed with a Quaker saying: "The day has been nicer for having seen thee."

Nicer, too, for a citizenry committed to constructive palpitation.

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