Three vie for council seat

Candidates square off in race to represent Oakland Mills for year

Election is Saturday

Russell notes record

opponents vow to end acrimony on panel

April 19, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

A Columbia Council member and the man she unseated by seven votes last year squared off last night along with a third Oakland Mills candidate, a political newcomer who says it's time for a fresh start.

Barbara Russell, 60, the incumbent, faces Earl Jones, 66, and Patti Boyd, 41, in Saturday's election for a one-year council term. Voting begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m.

Russell, a senior administrative analyst for the Howard County Council, said she was running on the record of her first year in office. Among the accomplishments she noted were the defeat of two plans she opposed. One was a land annexation deal. The other would have changed the way the Columbia Association assesses property, effectively lifting a cap on the local equivalent of property tax.

"We really did take on city hall and we won," Russell said, referring to the land annexation issue.

But Jones, a former Army officer and retired federal General Services Administration official, said the incumbent should take no pride in her performance because the 10-member council has been bitterly divided for most of the year.

He called the council "a laughingstock" and said it would be hard to say what, if anything, it had accomplished during Russell's tenure.

"If the Columbia Council is feuding among itself ... it will never be able to have the impact," Jones said. "The greatest problem we have right now is the Columbia Council itself."

Boyd is a legal specialist at a Baltimore law firm who served on the public board that governs Needham, Mass., while she lived in the Boston suburb several years ago. After observing two years of acrimonious councils - the first with Jones as a member, the second with Russell - Boyd said she would bring a more professional, collegial approach.

"This is a time for some change," she said.

About two dozen people attended the candidates forum at The Other Barn in Oakland Mills Village Center, a few doors from where a Metro food store recently closed. Candidates spoke of the need to revitalize the aging village and to balance priorities as the community sees its revenues top off.

Boyd said she was surprised to encounter a lot of home security systems and questions about crime as she campaigned in the village. She said that the perception of crime may be worse than reality, and that the Columbia Association needed to do more to project a positive image.

Russell said she would like to make neighborhood pools available to residents for free or at a reduced rate. She also said she would try to get the county to pay for some of the things the association provides, such as pathway maintenance.

Jones described the free pool idea as "tantalizing" but financially unrealistic. Boyd said that type of change would have to be evaluated as part of a broad strategic plan.

Jones spoke most passionately of the need for civility on the council. He accused Russell of failing to work well with her colleagues.

"I don't mean this to be mean-spirited," he said, holding up one of Russell's bright yellow campaign fliers. "This is a team effort. This is a community effort. Everything [in the flier] is, `I will do this. I will do that.' If everybody goes off with these `I' things, we won't get anywhere. This is nothing but hot air."

Russell said she was right to challenge fellow council members when she disagreed with their proposals, saying she had saved the community millions of dollars by helping to thwart annexation of a Rouse Co. development known as the Key property. "You don't just follow along," Russell said. "You use your individual judgment to do what you can do."

Boyd did not take direct aim at either of her opponents. But in response to a question about what she would have done differently had she been on the council last year, Boyd said she would not have hired an expensive executive search consultant to help the council hire a new Columbia Association president. She said she would have tried to find a local candidate, who would have been more likely to understand the "unique" community.

After a bungled national search that collapsed amid claims of racism, the council hired Maggie J. Brown, a Columbia Association vice president, in February.

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