Voters elect 7 to serve on council

Vote 01's promise of congeniality proves popular

One incumbent defeated

New council to hold retreat in May at Wye River

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

After a second year of bitter Columbia Council politics, voters elected new leadership yesterday for a town that's supposed to stand for social harmony.

The 10-member council, which oversees one of the nation's largest homeowners associations, will have five new faces when the winners take office May 1.

The elections held in seven of Columbia's 10 villages were a narrow victory for a community group, called Vote 01, that made just one campaign promise: a more collegial council.

Four of the seven seats at stake yesterday were won by candidates either recruited or backed by Vote 01, which is associated with Columbia's establishment. Council Chairman Lanny Morrison, who was elected last year, also had the group's backing. His seat is one of three that were not up for election this year.

"I think it's gonna be a good team," said Jean Moon, the former general manager of Patuxent Publishing Co., who organized Vote 01.

Much of the council makeover was self-imposed. Four incumbents did not seek re-election, at least in part because they were fed up with months of rancor on the council, which sets policies and approves the $44 million operating budget for the Columbia Association.

The association provides recreational services and maintains strict housing standards for the community of 87,000.

Only one of the three incumbents who sought re-election lost. In Kings Contrivance, challenger Steven Pine beat Kirk Halpin 263-121.

In Oakland Mills, incumbent Barbara Russell defeated Earl Jones, who lost to her by seven votes last year, and Patti Boyd. Russell received 321 votes to Jones' 242 and Boyd's 90.

In Hickory Ridge, incumbent Miles Coffman easily beat Robert E. O'Brien, whose candidacy was complicated by an assault conviction. Coffman had 332 votes to O'Brien's 54.

In Wilde Lake, Joshua Feldmesser beat three other candidates with 323 votes for the seat being vacated by Vincent Marando. Mary Kay Sigaty had 194 votes, Randy Clay had 66 and Hank Eigles had 42.

In Long Reach, Linda Odum won a three-way race with 240 votes for the seat Cecilia Januszkiewicz is giving up. Deborah Tolson received 101 votes, and Shelby A. Tucker King, former general counsel at the Columbia Association, trailed with 74.

In two uncontested races, Ed Stern won the River Hill seat being vacated by Adam Rich, and Tom O'Connor won in Dorsey's Search, where Robert Conors is giving up his seat.

The Vote 01 candidates who won are Coffman in Hickory Ridge, Odum in Long Reach, Stern in River Hill and O'Connor in Dorsey's Search.

But Vote 01 candidates lost in three villages: Halpin in Kings Contrivance, Jones in Oakland Mills and Sigaty in Wilde Lake.

Residents expressed hope that the new council will be an improvement over the last two, whose infighting scared off top job candidates and a professional "facilitator" hired to help council members get along. The facilitator gave up, more or less concluding that they were beyond help.

The new council will meet in mid-May for a retreat at Wye River Plantation, where Israelis and Palestinians tried to work out their differences in 1998.

"It is important to the reputation of the Columbia Association, and the council and the community as a whole that they work in a collegial and a civil and supportive environment, and that they move far beyond the discord that has marked the council over the past two years," said Padraic M. Kennedy, the Columbia Association's first president, who held the post for 26 years.

The elections have not wiped the slate entirely clean.

In addition to the two incumbents who won yesterday, three council members will return because their terms do not expire until next year. Of the three, two called fellow members racists last year. The third, the council chairman, ran on a platform of openness last April but has been accused all year long of withholding information not just from the public, but also from fellow council members.

The council's troubles began as members divided over the performance of CA President Deborah O. McCarty, who resigned in May after 20 months on the job. Many McCarty supporters were ousted in last April's elections.

The next council split over the search for McCarty's successor. Some called their council colleagues racists because they did not back a black candidate for president - this in a town that developer James W. Rouse founded in 1967 as a place where people of all races, religions and incomes would live in harmony.

The acrimony scared off two of the top three candidates for the job. Scrapping a national search, the council managed to agree on hiring a Columbia Association vice president, Maggie J. Brown, to be association president.

But relations on the council have hardly healed. Members have continued to spar over access to legal bills, a horse center lease and a change to the way CA computes property taxes.

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