Rancor still on council agenda

Ill will returns with discussion of session's 1st item

Months of acrimony

January 26, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

All week, members of the Columbia Council have received prayers and letters, urging them to put aside their differences and work together on the important issues before them.

But at a meeting last night, as the group considered how best to spend $51.7 million and repair its shattered presidential search, acrimony broke out again.

The spark that set it off was the first item on the table: approval of the agenda.

Councilwoman Cecilia Januszkiewicz of Long Reach had asked two weeks ago that an item be placed on the agenda for last night's meeting - the availability of information to the community and to council members.

Januszkiewicz wanted to discuss the topic because, she says, Chairman Lanny Morrison of Harper's Choice has unfairly denied her copies of the association's legal bills.

In recent months, she and other council members have complained that Morrison has withheld other information - on matters ranging from a land annexation plan to rental of the association's horse center - from the full council. Morrison says that is not true.

Morrison had not put the item on the agenda, so Januszkiewicz asked that it be added. But her motion failed to win the necessary two-thirds majority.

She blasted Morrison, noting that he criticized the last council for being too secretive when he ran for office last spring and even tried to get the Maryland attorney general's office to force it to be more open.

"It is shocking to me, as a director, that people would deny me the right to see them," Januszkiewicz said, referring to the legal bills.

Morrison accused Januszkiewicz of making personal attacks and failing to work in a positive manner. Recalling a previous incident, he said it took 60 hours of staff time to fill her requests for copies of another council member's expense reports.

Several other board members joined the fray, with some taking Januszkiewicz's side and others claiming that it is not unusual for proposed agenda items to be rejected.

Councilman Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance said he was turned down seven times before the agenda listed one of his pet projects - choosing a group of community and business leaders to help the new president get oriented to the job.

After Morrison responded to Januszkiewicz's criticism, he moved on to the next agenda item without recognizing her; she had raised her hand while he spoke.

The next item concerned a retreat for council members after April elections so that the new group might form a better working relationship. One location the council considered: the Wye River Plantation, where Israelis and Palestinians tried to work out their differences in 1998.

Last night's argument was the latest in several months of acrimony on the council. Relations reached a new low this month when the council's search for a new Columbia Association president collapsed, with council members accusing each other of racism and sabotaging candidates.

At a public forum at St. John Baptist Church on Tuesday, clergy members asked the council to come together. All week, strongly worded letters have trickled in from Columbia's village boards.

"We urge that each and every one of you take steps immediately to end the contentious behavior," read a letter from the Harper's Choice Village Board. The letter expressed the board's "strong dissatisfaction and disappointment with your recent performance both as individuals in many cases and collectively as the board of directors of our Association."

The council has plenty of weighty matters on its plate, including a proposed $51.7 million budget. The council decided last night to meet Feb. 1 to consider how to proceed with the presidential search, which fell apart two weeks ago when the second of three finalists for the position withdrew. The position has been vacant since Deborah O. McCarty resigned the $130,000 post under pressure in May.

Several village boards have asked the council to postpone the search until after April elections, saying the current council is too bitterly split to make a decision.

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