The meeting attendance record of incumbent Donna L. Rice was called into question by her challenger during a debate last night in their election contest for the Town Center seat on the Columbia Council.
Jud Malone, who is challenging Rice for the two-year seat, told about 20 people attending the debate at Historic Oakland that his opponent frequently misses meetings and votes on council matters by proxy.
Malone, who operates an Internet portal hosting service from his home, said he understands that the council position is time-consuming. But he said he was concerned that residents aren't fairly represented if their absent council member asks another to cast her votes during a meeting.
"Is convenience more important than democratic processes? ... It's more important that when you are there, you're acting in the best interests of those that elected you," he said.
Rice, who is seeking election to her third term on the council, said she has dedicated "hundreds of thousands" of hours to her role as council representative, and proxy voting allows her to have a voice when she can't attend a meeting.
She said she invoked a proxy last night so she could leave a Columbia Association management appraisal committee meeting that had caused her to be 30 minutes late to the debate.
"I think it's a slap in my face," she said of Malone's claims. "I certainly have not shirked my responsibilities."
The candidates also clashed over their support for a plan by the Rouse Co. for significant residential development of Town Center -- a key element to the village's future.
Rouse proposed construction of about 1,600 residential units in the 60-acre, crescent-shaped property behind Symphony Woods -- which would add an estimated 2,352 people to Town Center's population of 4,265.
The Howard County Zoning Board denied the proposal in January, wanting to review Columbia's New Town zoning regulations before allowing a major change to the urban core.
Rice, who runs a boutique and two businesses from her home, supported Rouse's petition.
"There's a certain critical mass you must have in order for businesses to succeed, for a city to be vibrant," said Rice, 58.
Malone, 53, said it is appropriate to consider adding more homes in Town Center. But he said more development details are necessary and Town Center residents need a say in the process before a plan is approved.
"Who's responsible for the ultimate picture of Town Center?" he said. "It's us."
Rice and Malone were also divided on a bill -- which the state legislature has approved -- that would impose a 10 percent cap on the impact of property assessments in the calculation of the annual charge the Columbia Association imposes on homeowners.
Malone supports the legislation. But Rice claims residents would have financially benefited more without it because the Columbia Association board -- whose 10 members also make up the council -- would have dropped the annual charge rate by a dime. Instead, with the prospect of the legislation, the board lowered the annual charge rate a by nickel, to 68 cents per $100 of assessed value on 50 percent of a home's worth.
Elections are scheduled for April 24, and the Town Center seat is one of three contested races. Incumbents also face challengers in Harper's Choice and Hickory Ridge.