5 members to seek re-election in April to Columbia Council

7 villages to vote for governing body of homeowners group

March 13, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

On April 26, Columbia residents in seven villages will elect representatives to the 10-member council that governs the 95,000-resident Columbia Association and also serves as its board of directors.

Five of the members say they are running for re-election.

They are: Miles Coffman, the council chair, of Hickory Ridge; Joshua Feldmark of Wilde Lake, Tom O'Connor of Dorsey's Search, Linda Odum, the council vice-chair, of Long Reach; and Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills.

Council members Ed Stern of River Hill and Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance will not be seeking re-election.

Coffman, Feldmark and Russell will be running for one-year terms. The other seven villages have two-year terms. Because the filing deadlines have not passed in all of the 10 villages, it is unclear who, if anyone, the incumbents will be facing.

The remaining three council members - Wolfger Schneider of Harper's Choice, Pearl Atkinson-Stewart of Owen Brown and Donna L. Rice of Town Center - are in the middle of their two-year terms.

Halpin, who is completing his second two-year term, said he felt it was time for him to "go on to other options and do other things."

"I've learned a lot, and I think there are a lot of other ways for me to serve my community," he said.

Stern said he decided to not seek his council seat again primarily because of a lack of time. He said he is at a busy time in his life, with two teen-agers, trying to write a novel and running his advertising business, The Stern Agency.

"It's just kind of been the perfect storm of things I want to devote attention to," he said.

Stern, who is completing his first two-year term, said he was uncertain if he would have enough time for the council.

"I actually enjoyed it a lot," he said. "Maybe someday I'll go back."

The council has spent most of the past year on its strategic planning process, in which the group is brainstorming ways to address the community's long-term needs, such as creating theme or therapy pools, establishing teen centers in each village or advocating for a 24-hour crisis center or for a four-year college in the county.

After four community meetings this month and a survey to gauge the public's reaction to the council's ideas, the council is scheduled to adopt a list of initial strategies for the homeowners association by its last meeting next month.

Last month, the council approved a $7.8 million capital budget for the fiscal year beginning in June that includes nearly $900,000 for refurbishing Hobbit's Glen Golf Club, the most contentious issue in the association's capital budget. The money will be used to rebuild damaged greens and renovate the course's clubhouse.

A group of longtime golfers had contended that the management of the course, not its physical structure, was the root of Hobbit's Glenn's problems. Some council members also balked at the high amount of money being spent on the course.

Coffman said he believed the council should focus more on the association's financial status.

"We've come along, but there are some more things we can do," he said, such as looking at implementing a debt reduction program that the association's Financial Management Committee is developing. At the beginning of next fiscal year, the association's long-term debt is projected to be $78.2 million.

If elected, Coffman said, he would be interested in being council chairman again. He said he has worked this past year to get the council away from personal attacks and make sure that "everyone has a voice" during meetings.

"I think we learned to discuss issues and not attack each other," said Coffman, who is in his third year on the council. "I'd like to continue that process."

Odum is seeking her second two-year term and said she would like to lobby for capital projects in Long Reach, especially work at Jackson Pond. She said she would also want to participate in any discussions about other possible work at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club or local tennis players' desire for a permanent indoor tennis facility.

"I'm finding it very, very rewarding - I think it's really important work," Odum said of her time on the council. "The Columbia Association matters so much to the quality of life of the people in Columbia."

Russell said that if she were elected again she would want to prevent what she sees as the council "retreating from public exposure." She said proposals to hold council meetings only once a month, instead twice a month, and to create a biennial budget, instead of the current annual cycle, would hinder the public and council's involvement.

"There are three council members who are elected on an annual basis, and they would have no major impact on [a biennial budget]," said Russell, who is in her third year on the council. "It's getting away from the board having major input. ... It's giving more power to the staff."

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