Columbia Association chief invites residents for a chat

Maggie Brown sets aside time today to answer questions via Web site

October 17, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown is taking her community outreach to cyberspace today, fielding questions from residents during her first online chat.

For 45 minutes, beginning at 2 p.m., Columbians can ask Brown questions via computer.

"What I try to do is provide every vehicle possible for people to feel that this is an open organization, and we're certainly willing to talk about issues and concerns" Brown said. "And we're certainly open to ideas and suggestions."

Brown acknowledged that she does not type very fast and laughed when she was asked if someone would help her with the typing.

"I certainly will have the resources that I need to make this happen," she said.

Brown's chat will be the first of its kind for the Columbia Association, and the interest in the group's Web site -- it received more than 300,000 hits one month this summer -- indicate that residents will likely respond favorably, said Keisha Reynolds, the association's manager of community relations and communications.

"We know that Columbia is filled with a lot of Web-savvy individuals," she said.

The online chat follows two public meetings that Brown has held in her Meeting with Maggie series to address questions on residents' minds. The public meetings are part of Brown's 2003 objectives that were passed by the board this month.

Columbia Council member Pearl Atkinson-Stewart of Owen Brown said the president and her staff have been working "triple time" to go into the community and meet with residents.

The online chat "is really very revolutionary," said Atkinson-Stewart, who chaired the management appraisal committee that determined the president's objectives.

Brown started her meeting series in May at Brighton Gardens, an assisted-living community. A meeting at the Howard County Central Library followed in July. Brown is considering scheduling a third meeting.

Residents at the two meetings asked Brown about Columbia's history and goals, as well as the association's open space and finances.

As with the two Meeting with Maggie gatherings, Brown said that if during the online chat she does not immediately know the answer to a question, she will let chatters know she will do research and make sure the question is answered later.

"When I'm in a public session, the one thing I always prefer to do is give as accurate information as possible," she said.

Residents might want to talk with Brown about the Columbia Association's fiscal 2004 capital budget.

The association's board of directors held its prebudget workshop during the weekend, during which it approved with straw votes a plan to close Hobbit's Glen Golf Club for a year to repair 16 greens, $5,000 stipends for board members, and $1 million -- contingent on receiving an additional $1 million from other agencies -- to dredge Lake Kittamaqundi and return the Little Patuxent River to its original configuration.

The board is aiming for a capital budget of about $8 million and will receive the draft budget in December. The board will approve the budget in February.

Brown said she will have on-line chats probably two or three times to gauge residents' interest and then determine if they should be done regularly.

Brown's online chat is available by logging on to www.columbiaassociation.com at 2 p.m. today.

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