Council elections lack an element of surprise this year

1 of 7 seats are contested

similar story in villages


April 06, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

This month's elections for the Columbia Council won't hold much suspense - only one of the seven open seats is contested.

In the lone race, David Hlass is challenging incumbent Linda Odum for the Long Reach village seat on the 10-member council. Four incumbents and two newcomers are running unopposed for the remaining six open seats.

Current council members Miles Coffman of Hickory Ridge; Joshua Feldmark of Wilde Lake; Tom O'Connor of Dorsey's Search; and Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills will be elected to the council again, as long as enough voters turn out in the April 26 elections. (Kings Contrivance will also hold balloting April 25.)

Phil Marcus of Kings Contrivance and Cabell Greenwood of River Hill are poised to serve their first terms on the council, which also serves as the Columbia Association's board of directors.

Councilman Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance, who is not seeking re-election, called the lack of competition a "sad state of affairs." Halpin had attempted to encourage more people to run for the council by proposing a $5,000 stipend for council members. The association board voted down the idea.

Halpin said he thinks residents don't understand the power that the homeowners association has or that it controls a nearly $50 million annual budget. With no competition for six council seats, Halpin said he is interested to see how many residents will vote.

"You don't have the ability to select the best candidate if there's only one person running, and I don't think it lends legitimacy to the whole process," Halpin said. "What's the point of having an election if there's nothing to decide?"

Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown said she sees the lack of competition for council seats as a sign that residents are generally happy with the Columbia Association.

"In the past when there's any concerns, there certainly has been a turnout of residents to contest seats," she said.

In recent years, elections for the Columbia Council, which governs the 95,000-resident homeowners association, have been more competitive.

In 2000, four villages had contested elections, with two candidates each running in three villages and three vying for a seat in one village. Many candidates focused their campaigns on whether they supported then-Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty, whose leadership had been questioned. She resigned in May 2000, after 20 months on the job.

In 2001, when the council had a reputation for being dysfunctional, 16 candidates ran for seven open seats, with five contested races. Last year, three council races were contested with two candidates in each race.

A collegial council

But this year, there appears to be no central issue uniting the candidates or encouraging residents to run for the council. The council has been more collegial than in years past and has spent most of this past year focusing on noncontroversial strategic planning.

The council has dedicated one of its two monthly meetings to brainstorming ideas to address Columbia's long-term needs, including establishing teen centers in each village, developing a multiyear budgeting cycle for the association, facilitating community discussions about diversity and socioeconomic class, or providing curbside leaf vacuuming services.

During the council's budget process, which ended in February, the most contentious issue surrounded the damaged greens at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club. Some council members viewed it as a physical problem, while others thought the damage may be attributed to poor management. Despite the differences of opinion, the issue didn't garner much heated debate when it came down to the final vote to approve nearly $900,000 for refurbishing the greens and the course's clubhouse.

"I don't think there have been any really major divisive issues," said Vince Marando, a member of the Wilde Lake Village Board and a past council member. "There weren't any major personalities involved."

In the race for the Long Reach seat, Odum wants to continue "vigorously representing" the interests of residents and points to her accomplishments, including advocating for open space improvements to the village, helping implement the council's long-term strategies, working toward eliminating the association's debt and improving relations between the council and the villages.

"Now that I've gotten my arms around the issues and have a grip on the financial piece and the budget piece ... I'd like to dedicate another two years to it."

Hlass, Odum's challenger, wants to work toward ensuring residents receive more value for the property lien they annually pay to the association, 73 cents per $100 of valuation on 50 percent of the fair market value. He also wants to "speak for all the people ... and assess all the concerns of all the people."

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