Board's plans to go to public

Town meetings begin tomorrow on possible long-term goals for CA

A `long and hard' process

Council intends to adopt a list of initial strategies by next month


March 03, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Council's two-year strategic planning process is nearing the end of its initial phase, and now community reaction to the council's ideas will help determine the next steps the Columbia Association will take to address the community's long-term needs.

Tomorrow in Oakland Mills, the Columbia Association will hold the first of four town meetings to discuss the ideas before the council adopts an initial group of strategies for the association staff to begin working on.

For almost a year, the council has devoted half of its twice-monthly meetings to studying four issues: adjusting programs and services to meet changing needs; pursuing external advocacy issues on behalf of the community; maintaining Columbia's vision; and improving governance.

During long brainstorming sessions - which council members have likened to "herding cats" - the council and association staff members developed lists of options for each category.

Columbia Council Chairman Miles Coffman acknowledged that the council has "been a little slow" in the process but said, "I think we've had good discussions, and I think we're moving the process along."

Some of the ideas are specific and tangible: creating theme or therapy pools; providing curbside leaf vacuuming services; creating a teen center in every village; developing a multiyear budgeting cycle for the association; advocating for a 24-hour crisis center or for a four-year college in the county.

Others are less specific: developing more programs and events to celebrate cultural diversity; promoting and encouraging voluntarism; facilitating community discussions about diversity and socioeconomic class; advocating for better transportation between Columbia and Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis.

The process has "been long and hard, but ... if you look at those long lists, there's been a lot of really productive thinking," said Rob Goldman, the association's vice president for sport and fitness who is leading the planning sessions. "Everyone really cares about this community and is really trying to think through what's best for the future of Columbia."

The council is aiming to adopt a list of initial strategies by its last meeting next month, before a new council is in office, Goldman said. Which issues the council will focus on depend somewhat on community input during town meetings and in a survey.

However, the association's board of directors, which also acts as the council, did not approve money for strategic planning in the fiscal 2004 budget.

Coffman said the next council might have to "reassess priorities" because of the lack of funds.

The Oakland Mills meeting will be held at the Other Barn, 5851 Robert Oliver Place, at 7:30 p.m. After a welcome from CA President Maggie J. Brown, Goldman will present the history of the strategy-making process.

An outside facilitator will lead a discussion, asking residents which strategic options they feel are important or should not be implemented, and whether the council should be considering other issues.

The association is paying Mason-Dixon Polling & Research $17,500 to monitor the meetings and submit a report as well as survey 800 adult Columbians about the issues.

Resident surveys

The surveys will be conducted immediately after the town meetings to determine how residents feel about the strategies developed to address the four issues, Goldman said. The council is scheduled to receive Mason-Dixon's report and survey results at its March 27 meeting.

At the beginning of the strategic planning process in 2001, the association also paid Mason-Dixon $17,500 to facilitate and report on 11 town meetings and later survey residents to gauge which categories the council should be studying.

A key aspect to the category of improving governance is the report from the Governance Structure Committee that offered recommendations to simplify and improve the association's often convoluted governing process.

Last fall, the association's board of directors asked general counsel Sheri Fanaroff to analyze the legal possibility of implementing three changes: merging the functions of the board of directors and the council, creating three-year terms for board members, and establishing the 10 village associations as CA members.

Three-year terms

Fanaroff reported that while all three changes would be possible, they face significant hurdles - primarily, changing term lengths would require amending the charters and bylaws of each of Columbia's 10 villages.

Each village has its standard to change the documents - some call for two-thirds vote by the village board and a majority vote of the residents and property owners; others require a two-thirds vote of a quorum or a majority vote of a quorum, with quorums equaling different percentages of the populations.

The village boards will discuss the possibility of changing term lengths and report back to the council. If a consensus is reached, the council will try to help the villages with the process, Coffman said.

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