CA policy now clear on conflicts of interest Conflict...


May 12, 2002

CA policy now clear on conflicts of interest

Conflict of interest questions arose during the Columbia Association's Fiscal Year 2002 (that ended April 30) for three other Columbia Council/CA Board of Directors members besides Barbara Russell. When CA was considering the issuance of a new series of senior secured bonds, Miles Coffman asserted to his Council/Board colleagues that his then-employer might have an interest in these bonds.

On the two occasions the matter arose at meetings, not only did Mr. Coffman not participate in the discussions but he actually got up and physically left the meetings. He also did not vote on the matter.

Ed Stem raised a question whether a potential business opportunity for his company (not having to do with CA) might pose a conflict of interest. He was advised that there would be no conflict under the provisions of the Council/Board's Conflict of Interest Policy.

I was the other one who had a conflict of interest issue. My adult daughter informed me that she had applied for and was in the process of being hired for a part-time, temporary position with CA. I immediately brought this to the attention of CA's president, Maggie Brown, who referred it to CA's General Counsel. General Counsel was of the opinion that this would be a violation of the Policy, so the hiring process ceased.

A question of Ms. Russell's having a possible conflict of interest because of her employment with Howard County arose during the consideration of CA's Fiscal Year 2003 Budget on February 21, 2002. In the two years I was on the Council/Board with Ms. Russell, there were two instances when she requested that it be made known that she would not be participating because of her employment with Howard County.

These instances included Howard County Council redistricting and County Bill 48-2000 (having to do with minimum, basic exterior property standards). In each instance, I dutifully noted in communications on behalf of the Council with the County that she did not participate in the matter.

In other instances, however, Ms. Russell did not make similar requests. For example, she participated in discussions and voted to approve CA participation in a Loan Guarantee Program requested by then County Council Chairperson Mary Lorsung. She also participated in and voted for CA to enter into a multi-party arrangement that included Howard County to establish a Volunteer Center Serving Howard County. In addition, she participated in discussions and commented on communications to be sent to the County Council on the Howard County General Plan.

Both CA's general counsel and outside counsel were of the opinion that the policy applied to all Board/Council members, irrespective of the entity with whom they may be employed. Nonetheless, partly because of Ms. Russell's insistence that the policy did not apply to her, both CA's general counsel and outside counsel suggested that the then-policy might benefit by amending the document to make this explicit. Therefore, the clarification in the policy approved by the Board on April 25, 2002 did this.

Some individuals have suggested that the change in policy will have a "chilling effect" by keeping government employees from being on the Council/Board. Some have also suggested that this somehow disadvantages the Village of Oakland Mills, which Ms. Russell represents, and is tantamount to "taxation without representation."

These statements are simply incorrect. Section 7 of the policy, which has been in effect since April 28, 1994, provides that if a member "is not permitted to participate in or vote on a matter under this policy because of a conflict or the appearance of a conflict of interest, the Board of the Village represented by the Council Representative shall be invited to submit written comments and/or make a presentation to the Council/Board regarding the matter."

Consequently, the Policy provides a clear process for ensuring that a village is not deprived of a voice on any issue as to which its representative has a conflict.

Lanny J. Morrison

Columbia(The writer represented Harper's Choice on the Columbia Council.)

Homeowners lose under new CA policy

The revised Conflict of Interest policy sets the stage for breaking the agreement made between the Columbia Association (CA) and its homeowners. Setting policy that denies homeowners rights to representation either directly or indirectly is at minimum a breach of faith, if not a breach of their agreement. Council/Board members need to remember that their primary allegiance is to the homeowners that elected them prior to establishing or changing corporate policies.

To suggest that the mere association of a member with an organization puts them in a conflict of interest is absurd.

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