Forum to probe CA chief search

Group seeks to study racism allegations, meet with council

January 22, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Black clergy, political activists and community leaders will be hosts of a public forum this week on alleged racism in the search for a Columbia Association president.

The group also has asked for a closed-door meeting with the Columbia Council next month to discuss the matter, though open meeting rules apparently would require that such a gathering be held in public.

The meetings were called in response to the council's failed attempt to hire someone to oversee the Columbia Association, a homeowners group with a $50 million annual budget that provides recreational and other services to the town's 87,000 residents.

The council's search collapsed Jan. 10 as the second of three finalists withdrew, charging that some council members opposed him because he is black.

The forum is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at St. John Baptist Church, 8910 Old Annapolis Road, Columbia.

"I think that it will help to bring the community closer together by increasing the level of understanding between the Columbia Council and the community," said the Rev. Robert A. F. Turner, pastor of the church and president of the African American Coalition of Howard County.

"We're creating this forum so the council can present what they're striving to accomplish, the community can air its frustrations with the recent withdrawal of the two candidates, and we can, hopefully, put our heads together in addressing the question of, `Where do we go from here?'" he said.

Matter of choice

Council Chairman Lanny Morrison said he plans to attend tomorrow's meeting. He said attendance was up to individual council members.

"I'm not trying to lobby them to come," Turner said. "Since they don't have any other council meeting scheduled that night, their absence will send a negative message to the community."

Turner said he hopes that in addition to the full council, residents of all racial and ethnic backgrounds will turn out for the meeting.

"This is not just an African-American issue," he said. "There are people from different ethnic groups that are concerned about what is going on. We're looking for a diverse turnout."

Open or closed?

Turner also called for a closed-door meeting Feb. 7 between the council and black community leaders.

Under the Maryland Homeowners Association Act, the council may meet in closed session for only limited purposes, such as discussing pending litigation, personnel matters or business negotiations. The council may, by a two-thirds majority vote, meet privately for "some other exceptional reason so compelling as to override the general public policy of open meetings," the law states.

"I don't see why any meeting with a community group should be closed," Morrison said.

Turner said he hoped the second meeting could be closed to ensure a small, workable group.

"The community meeting is to get the issues on the table. The smaller meeting is to get some action items on the table," Turner said, meaning a list of goals.

"I'm not trying to exclude anyone from the second meeting," he said. "I'm just trying to make it as efficient as possible."

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