Council's vote ends term on a sour note

Government employees fall under conflict policy

7-2 board decision hotly debated

Personal attacks mar discussion on rule change

April 28, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

COLUMBIA — In its last meeting of current members, the Columbia Association's board of directors passed an ethics policy revision that caused a former board member to compare the group to Germany's Nazis.

After bickering and personal attacks, the board voted 7-2 Thursday night to approve a policy change that would restrict board members who were county, state or federal employees from discussing or voting on matters related to those entities.

Columbia Councilwoman Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills, who works for Howard County government, has said she felt targeted by the policy. Russell said she believes it was a reaction to her recent urging to transfer Columbia Association's before- and after-school program to the county.

"Government is not a business. It is not a profit-making entity," she said. "Any benefit to government benefits all of us as taxpayers."

Russell said the 10-person board, which also acts as the Columbia Council, is a "lame duck" panel and should not vote on policy issues, leaving that for the next group. That would also allow more time for public comment, she said.

Russell and Councilman Joshua Feldmark of Wilde Lake voted against the policy change, while Councilman Tom O'Connor of Dorsey's Search abstained.

Sheri Fanaroff, Columbia Association general counsel, said the proposal does not change the policy and only clarifies the definition of "business entity." But Russell maintained that it's "not only a change, but a substantial change."

Under the original policy, members who worked for a company with business before the council were not to vote on or discuss the issue. The proposed clarification further defined business entity as "private, public, or governmental."

Feldmark questioned the timing of the vote and asked if it's not a change, "then why are we fighting like this?"

"If it's not personal, then why is it coming up now?" he said.

The heated debate turned personal, with some members attacking Russell, and audience members attacking the board.

"[Russell is] refusing to believe that she should be governed by a policy," Councilman Miles Coffman of Hickory Ridge said. "Having integrity is the most important thing this council can have."

Russell said she has never said she shouldn't be covered by the ethics policy and that changing the wording would affect anyone who might want to serve on the board in the future.

Before the board discussed the matter, Bill Woodcock of the Oakland Mills Village Board told members that the policy change would have "profound consequences" on who could make decisions on the council.

Speaking on his own behalf, not that of his village board, Woodcock said the change would be "one fell swoop - if you're involved in government, you can't participate in certain decisions."

Former Councilwoman Cecilia Januszkiewicz of Long Reach told the board the proposed change "speaks to fear of new ideas" and will "squash discussion."

"It's really more reminiscent of Nazi Germany than America," she said.

Many board members were angered by Januszkiewicz's comment. In an emotional moment, Councilman Ed Stern of River Hill said the remark was "appalling" and he asked that the panel "get a grip on the magnitude of what we're doing here - we're a homeowners' association, it's not life or death," he said with a wavering voice, and then left the room.

Council Chairman Lanny Morrison of Harper's Choice said he "will not stand for" comparing the board to the Nazi regime.

"I think this group needs to send a message that intolerance will not be tolerated," he said as he slammed his fist on the table.

Russell said after the meeting that she will abide by the board's decision, but hopes it will reconsider the "ill-conceived, ill-advised policy that will disenfranchise a large number of county residents to participate on the CA board."

In other action, the board voted to increase Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown's salary by 4 percent from $125,000 to $130,000. The raise will take effect Wednesday.

The board also voted to approve $7,000 for a retreat for council members, Columbia Association staff, village boards, village mangers, resident architectural committee members and covenant advisers.

The retreat, tentatively scheduled for June 7 and 8, is planned at the Sheraton Hotel in Columbia for community representatives to get to know each other and learn about their roles. Ninety to 110 people may attend the event, which is scheduled to include a social gathering, a keynote speaker and workshops.

Thursday's meeting marked the end of Morrison's tenure on the council and board. He was the only one of six members seeking re-election earlier this month who was voted out of office.

At the end of the meeting, many council members thanked Morrison, who was chairman for the past two years.

After lauding Morrison's accomplishments, Councilwoman Pearl Atkinson-Stewart of Owen Brown gave him what was perhaps the most memorable send-off.

"I know I will see Lanny again, just as Jesus Christ [was resurrected]," she said, as the audience erupted in laughter.

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