Hickory Ridge council hopefuls face off

Facilities management, voting rules debated

April 16, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Columbia Council candidates from Hickory Ridge squared off last night, pitting a contentious challenger who wants to reform the homeowners association against an incumbent whose ideas are more reserved.

Incumbent Miles Coffman and challenger Joel Yesley fielded questions in front of an audience of fewer than 20 people at the village's Hawthorn Center.

Those attending were interested in the candidates' views on issues ranging from village voting rules to the Columbia Association's management of its facilities.

"I want to make the council more receptive to its citizens," Yesley said in his opening statement.

Hickory Ridge is one of three villages having a contested race for seats on the council. The council also acts as the board of directors of the Columbia Association, which provides many services for the town of 88,000.

Incumbents in Harper's Choice and Owen Brown are facing one challenger each in the April 20 elections, while the candidates in Wilde Lake, Town Center and Oakland Mills are unopposed.

Yesley, 58, has lived in Columbia for a year and a half. He is an economist and a member of the citizen watchdog group Alliance for a Better Columbia.

Among Yesley's ideas to modify the association include altering the council makeup by electing members at large, not by village, and changing the voting rules that are based on property ownership.

The rules differ throughout the villages, with one vote per household allowed in eight villages, while one person has one vote in the other two. Yesley thinks each person should have one vote.

"I believe that one person, one vote is basic to democracy," he said. "I don't see how anyone could object to that."

But Coffman said such an issue should be dealt with at the village level, not by the council.

Yesley called for a full-scale performance audit to evaluate the association's effectiveness.

He said management of some of its facilities, such as Hobbit's Glen and Fairway Hills golf courses, could be contracted out to improve their management and reduce debt.

The association should focus on managing open spaces and providing recreational facilities rather than providing exotic services such as day spas and nail salons, he added.

"Beyond that, you just get into debt ... [and] relatively small numbers of people are being serviced," Yesley said.

Coffman said the kind of audit his opponent proposed would cost at least $1 million.

"I think the Columbia Association has a mission, and I think it's more than offering the core [services]," he said. "It's about quality of life."

Yesley favors lengthening council terms - which vary from one to two years throughout the villages - while Coffman, who is seeking a third term, thinks the current one-year terms in Hickory Ridge are more appropriate.

Before he joined the council - where he chaired the finance and audit committees - Coffman, 52, served on his village board for 10 years. He has lived in Columbia for 17 years.

He has worked with the village board on issues that include the 2003 budget and improved maintenance of the village's open space.

"I've tried to listen to the input from the people of this village," said Coffman. "I think we've made great strides."

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