CA board votes to study how to be restructured

2 proposals for changing governing body in offing

March 14, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

For more than three years, Columbia's often-convoluted governing structure has been studied in an attempt to streamline the way the planned community is ruled.

Many residents have been frustrated with the system, in which voting rights, election rules and Columbia Council terms of office vary by village.

Two residents - Andy Stack, a member of the Owen Brown Village Board, and Joshua Feldmark, vice chairman of the Columbia Association board - have drafted proposals to change the governing structure. On Thursday night, the association board voted to have a committee study both plans.

"Sometimes it's a miracle that [the Columbia Association board] moves forward," said Neil Dorsey, chairman of the Owen Brown board. " ... I'm glad they're taking a step forward."

But the move upset other residents, who have been pushing for change and urged the board to adopt Stack's plan, which eight of 10 villages have endorsed.

"I was very disheartened by how they handled it and how they made the village boards appear to be not smart enough to make a decision," said Linda Hitzelberger, chairwoman of the Hickory Ridge Village Board, who testified before the larger board.

Each of Columbia's 10 villages now elects a council member, who then becomes a member of the CA. The council then appoints itself as the Columbia Association board.

Stack's proposal would give more power to Columbia's village associations by making them members of the CA and disbanding the council, which now consists of the same 10 members as the board. The proposal would also allow each village to elect a representative to the board.

Feldmark's plan is similar, and he also proposes adding an 11th member to the board, who would be a full-time, paid representative elected Columbia-wide. Feldmark has also suggested that the person act as chairman.

The committee will report to the board by November after it has studied both recommendations. But Hitzelberger worries that examining both proposals will delay the process.

After November, "then you come back and rehash it again and again. It's like OK, how long do we have to do it?" she said.

Despite the urging from village boards to adopt Stack's plan, many association board members felt both proposals should be studied.

"We have two proposals, and we should try to merge them and get the best of both," said board member Wolfger Schneider of Harper's Choice.

Others felt that the plans could be used as a framework.

"I think what we have here is a starting point," said board member Cabell Greenwood of River Hill.

The governance of Columbia has been the subject of study since December 2000, when a committee began a 15-month review that concluded with a list of recommendations.

The board did not adopt any of the major recommendations, which included creating three-year terms for all board members and establishing the 10 village associations as CA members.

"We basically blew them off, for a lack of a better term," board Chairman Miles Coffman said.

On Thursday night, the board also examined changes to the board's ethics policy, which was drafted by the board's policy committee. After debating the appropriateness of some guidelines, the board decided that each board member would make suggested changes to the policy for the committee to consider.

Feldmark was concerned that the policy's "duty of care" and "duty of loyalty" clauses dealt only with the relationship between board members and the Columbia Association. He was troubled that the policy instructs board members to make decisions solely with the association in mind rather than the larger community of Columbia residents.

Feldmark said the policy should also state "the duty of care and loyalty to the community."

Board member Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills was concerned that the policy requires board members to follow the association's employee regulations, which include discipline for such behavior as sleeping or gambling during working time, negligent or inferior work, horseplay, obscene language or dishonesty.

Russell said that not all of those regulations relate to a board member's duties. She said she was outraged that a member's conduct would be dealt with in a closed meeting, arguing that such concerns should be aired publicly, allowing board members the same rights as those facing accusations in the criminal justice system.

"I think that is absolutely untenable," she said, adding that board members should be able to "face their accusers in public and to give their testimony."

Board member Tom O'Connor of Dorsey's Search, who is on the policy committee, said that part of the ethics policy was intended to hold the board members to the same standards of social conduct as association staff while they're representing Columbia.

"I think it's a minimal request given to us for civility," he said.

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