Council chair loses election to Schneider

Harper's Choice voters pick challenger over Morrison

Close upset decision: 234-208

Other 5 board incumbents on ballot retain their seats

April 21, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

In a surprising Columbia Council election upset, the chairman lost his seat yesterday to a challenger who belongs to a group that advocates changes in the association's image and practices.

Wolfger Schneider of Harper's Choice defeated incumbent Lanny Morrison 234-208 in a victory for the citizens watchdog group Alliance for a Better Columbia.

The other two Alliance candidates vying for council seats did not fare so well.

In Hickory Ridge, incumbent Miles Coffman easily beat challenger Joel Yesley 245-89.

The race was somewhat closer in Owen Brown, where incumbent Pearl Atkinson-Stewart defeated challenger Barry Blyveis 270-167.

The 10-member Columbia Council, which also acts as the board of directors of the Columbia Association, sets policies and approves the $44 million operating budget for the huge homeowners association. Columbia Association provides many services and amenities for the 35-year-old planned community of 88,000 residents.

Six of the council's members were up for re-election. The other three incumbents -- Joshua Feldmark of Wilde Lake, Donna L. Rice of Town Center and Barbara L. Russell of Oakland Mills -- ran unopposed and retained their seats.

The challengers campaigned on pledges to make significant changes in the homeowners association's policies, while the three incumbents defended the council's recent record.

Challengers criticized the association's heavy burden of debt, advocated lengthening council terms, electing at-large council members and making use of the association's pools free to Columbia residents.

Most incumbents pointed to steady debt reduction in recent years and argued that the council's management and budget decisions had been prudent.

Schneider, 61, a 33-year resident of Columbia, campaigned on goals that included helping adult programs centers become self-sufficient, promoting activities for average residents and opposing Columbia Association activities outside Columbia.

Yesterday, Schneider said he thinks the Columbia Association's image needs to be "much more positive" in the community and that the council can help by running its meetings in a positive, cooperative way.

"I've gotten quite a bit of input that people are not happy with CA," he said.

Coffman, 52, won his third one-year term yesterday. He has said the council needs to discover what, if any, changes residents want to see made to the homeowners association.

Atkinson-Stewart, 64, won her third two-year term and said she wanted to continue her position on the council to ensure the next generation of Columbia residents will have the amenities she has enjoyed.

She said she wants to improve relations between the Columbia Association and villages, address crime and education issues, as well as stabilize the association's revenues and expenditures.

"I feel that the people in my community have come through, and they know I've been a hard worker all these years," said Atkinson-Stewart, who served on her village board for 10 years. "And they know I keep all my promises."

Atkinson-Stewart and Blyveis were involved in a heated race, accusing each other of misrepresenting the other's record and claiming unfair campaign practices.

Yesterday, Atkinson-Stewart claimed that her opponent had slandered her by telling voters that she supported an effort to annex a 665-acre Rouse Co. development in North Laurel. Blyveis' campaign fliers claimed the deal would have required the Columbia Association to borrow $3 million. Atkinson-Stewart has maintained that although she voted to pursue negotiations on the deal, she never voted to accept a proposal. The issue died in November 2000.

Atkinson-Stewart said yesterday that regardless of the election outcome, she would address her concerns about Blyveis' campaigning.

Meanwhile, Blyveis has disputed Atkinson-Stewart's claims that he wanted to cut the association's before- and after-school programs for children.

The candidates continued their campaigning during voting hours yesterday, standing in front of the polling places to greet voters. In Hickory Ridge, Yesley handed out surveys to voters with questions about pool fees and annual assessments, with the heading "Send The Columbia Association A Message!"

Colette Roberts of Owen Brown said she had a hard time choosing between Atkinson-Stewart and Blyveis and said she was concerned about the candidates being responsible to the community.

"I just feel like it might be time for a change," she said after casting her ballot at the village center. "I love the community, but I have more and more concerns about it."

In Harper's Choice, resident Warwick Harris said that he didn't necessarily have strong feelings about Schneider, Morrison or the village board candidates and that his vote came down to "incumbency, past service and being accessible to constituents."

When the new council takes office May 1, it will probably consider altering the system that governs the association.

Election rules and practices vary across the 10 villages.

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