Candidates reticent on annexation

Long Reach voters frustrated on issue


April 11, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Residents tried and failed last night to get two Columbia Council candidates to take positions on a land annexation plan that some say is dead, but others expect to resurface after the April 21 elections.

At a public forum for candidates from Long Reach, several residents pressed Linda Odum and Deborah Tolson to take a stand on a proposal, rejected by the council in November, to annex a future Rouse Co. development in North Laurel.

Both declined, saying they would have to evaluate the matter as board members before they could take a position.

A third candidate for the Long Reach seat, Shelby A. Tucker King, did not attend. She was out of the country on a vacation planned before the forum was scheduled.

Some audience members expressed frustration that Odum, 59, and Tolson, 50, would not state an opinion on one of the most prominent and important issues that came before the council last year.

"I think it's ludicrous," said Tom Wallace, who has lived in Columbia since 1967. "You should have a position."

The three candidates are competing for the council seat being vacated by Cecilia Januszkiewicz. Seven of Columbia's 10 council seats are up for election this year. Odum and Tolson appeared at the forum with Laura Heinrich and Victor Bailey, two candidates running unopposed for village board seats.

During brief opening statements and an hourlong question-and-answer period, Odum and Tolson offered remedies for a variety of problems, from juvenile delinquency to secrecy in Columbia Association affairs.

Odum suggested that if the school day started and ended later, middle and high school students would have less unsupervised time in the afternoon, when they are most likely to get into trouble. In making the suggestion, she noted that the Columbia Council has no "direct" authority over schools.

Tolson said she wanted to find ways to improve communications with residents, including setting up a telephone line that residents could call to express complaints and concerns.

But annexation seemed to be the greatest concern for many of the more than 40 residents in attendance. Again and again, they asked the candidates to say where they stood on what is known as the Key property.

Supporters of the plan have said annexation would bring Columbia millions of dollars in assessment revenue. Opponents say it would cost the association money because of the recreational amenities it would have to provide and maintain. Some opponents also object on philosophical grounds because the property is not contiguous to Columbia.

Odum said she did not think the plan would come before the council again, since Rouse officials have said it would not. If it does, she said, she would have to see how the deal would affect the Columbia Association's "economic model" and "income stream."

"There will be other variables if it comes up again," Tolson told a woman who expressed disbelief that the candidates had not formed an opinion on the matter when it was before the council last year.

Odum is a Realtor with RE/MAX Columbia. She has served on the board of the Columbia Foundation and was president of Family and Children's Services, a nonprofit community mental health counseling center in Wilde Lake.

Tolson is a longtime community activist who works as a substitute teacher and grant-writer. She also oversees an after-school program and summer camp at Long Reach Church of God. She lost to Januszkiewicz by 13 votes in the April 1999 election.

King, 43, is former general counsel at the Columbia Association. She left the job in March 2000 during a period of turmoil at the organization. She works for a Baltimore law firm. Chairwoman of the Columbia Housing Corporation's board, she has lived in Columbia since 1987.

King sent a prepared statement, read aloud by the forum moderator, expressing her "desire to restore Columbia to the `community of choice' for people of all cultural, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds." The statement made no mention of the annexation issue.

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