Saturday Mailbox


January 17, 2004

Columbia needs a large dose of democracy

I have lived in Columbia for more than 30 years, and have always felt disenfranchised to a large extent ("Howard's Kremlin," editorial, Jan. 9).

What other homeowners association has its "fee" tied directly to state property assessments? This fee is, in fact, a city tax that was not voted on by the residents. Does anyone remember "taxation without representation"?

It is ridiculous to continue to impose the political structure of a homeowners association on a medium-sized city, especially a homeowners association that has no reasonable mechanism for making changes to its bylaws. (It is not reasonable to require a 100 percent favorable vote of all property owners to make a change.)

This rigid and unchangeable structure leads, in many cases, to Columbia Association (CA) board members who identify too strongly with CA and its bondholders at the expense of the residents.

CA expenditures should be tied to a democratic political process, not to state property assessments. The present system offers incentive to create windfalls and grandiose plans that are not to the benefit of most residents.

Columbia is now too large to be governed by a homeowners association with limited powers and an unwieldy (too large) council and board of directors.

I don't think the CA board of directors has the time, staff or money to act as an effective counterweight to the self-serving CA organization and its bondholders.

I believe wholesale changes are in order, and that state legislation is the best way to create a process that will introduce the needed democratic governance to Columbia.

Lynn W. Hart


Unfair criticism just never lets up

I was offended and appalled by The Sun's recent editorial and headline comparing the Columbia Association to the Kremlin ("Howard's Kremlin," Jan. 9).

The editorial summed up its comments by encouraging "Columbia's largely long-silent property owners" to elect a CA board majority "committed to installing democracy and taking back control of the organization from its staff."

I completely agree that most residents of Columbia pay little attention to the organization that makes this city such a desirable location. After all, the open space gets mowed, the facilities are in good repair, plenty of camps are available for our kids and CA has an excellent bond rating. Yet, for at least 15 years, members of the Alliance for a Better Columbia, a local self-proclaimed watchdog group, have insisted that the sky is falling. And The Sun apparently agrees with it.

The CA board and staff worked hard to eliminate the deficit built up during the early years of Columbia and, more recently, to reduce the accumulated debt as requested by the community. Now that same watchdog group that was opposed to debt is encouraging CA to incur more debt rather than use available cash to pay for facility maintenance and upgrades.

I have participated in the CA budget process for more than 20 years. Each year, the budget document has become more detailed and more easily understandable. The process is wide open and provides many opportunities for community input.

The Columbia Association has been audited by five accounting firms in the past 25 years, and each audit has given it a clean bill of health. And yet the criticism of CA staff never lets up.

The Columbia Association is not a government entity, and it is not a traditional corporation. It is a homeowners association, and yet it is so much more that comparing it to any other such association is unfair.

The hybrid governance system that we have isn't perfect. It needs change. But our covenants are a legal contract between two parties and should not be changed without careful consideration by a majority of Columbia residents.

Unfortunately, only the opinions of a few outspoken critics are given weight by the local press and politicians.

Joan Lancos


The writer is a former member of the Columbia Council.

Insulting to link Columbia, Kremlin

Thank you for allowing me to express my outrage over the headline and analogy used in The Sun's recent editorial "Howard's Kremlin" (Jan. 9).

The title implies that Columbia is being run by heavy-handed communists, and it goes beyond the line of good taste.

Let me explain why I feel so strongly about this inappropriate metaphor.

My father spent 23 years as an officer in the U.S. Army. He commanded Checkpoint Charlie when the Berlin Wall was built. He was on the shores of Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He finally died an early death because of Agent Orange exposure in the Mekong River Delta.

Furthermore, I am a West Point graduate who spent five years in the 82nd Airborne Division on constant alert status while training to fight the Soviet Union and an additional year in South Korea.

I understand all too well what communism is all about.

So when I am called a communist, or it is even implied that I am involved in using communist-style tactics, I am insulted beyond comprehension.

Tom O'Connor


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