Election shakes board's balance

More representatives on council sympathetic to watchdog group

`I hope we get different blood'

Before vote, members were almost evenly split

April 25, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

In a Columbia Council election that determined the power balance of the 10-member group, a key race - Harper's Choice - was decided by two votes yesterday.

In one of three contested races, Harper's Choice incumbent Wolfger Schneider narrowly beat Kathleen Larson, 277-275, in a victory for the Alliance for a Better Columbia, a citizens watchdog group .

"I think my opponent ran a very strong campaign, and I'm happy to have survived it," said Schneider, who won his second two-year term.

In Hickory Ridge, residents favored incumbent Miles Coffman over Fred Franklin-Campbell, 31, an adjunct history professor at Howard Community College, 189-118 .

Town Center candidate Jud Malone will be the only newcomer on the council. Malone beat incumbent Donna L. Rice, 215-58.

In Harper's Choice, Schneider also faced Arna Clark, 32, a dishwasher and food preparer at Popeye's in The Mall in Columbia who described herself as a communist and wanted to bring a peace awareness festival to Columbia. She received 11 votes.

Three incumbents faced no competition. Joshua Feldmark and Barbara Russell were elected to represent Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills, respectively. Pearl Atkinson-Stewart will be appointed to her Owen Brown seat because the village does not hold elections for uncontested races.

The representatives from Dorsey's Search, Kings Contrivance, River Hill and Long Reach will be entering the second year of their two-year terms and were not up for re-election.

The 10-member council, which also acts as the Columbia Association's board of directors, is the policy-making body of the homeowners association, which provides recreational amenities and manages open space for more than 96,000 residents.

Fears about facilities

Though the makeup of the council will be changed by only one person, yesterday's election will tip the balance of the once nearly evenly split group.

There are now six members of the council - Russell, Feldmark, Schneider, Malone, Long Reach representative David Hlass and Kings Contrivance representative Phil Marcus - whose ideas are usually supported by the Alliance for a Better Columbia, which has clashed with the council majority and association staff. Schneider and Marcus are alliance members.

Supporters of Coffman, Rice and Larson feared that if the other candidates won, the association's recreational facilities - which include 23 outdoor pools, three gyms and two golf courses - would be at risk.

The alliance has been pushing the council to hold more open meetings and to balance the association's budget. The fiscal 2005 budget includes a $4.3 million surplus, and the alliance doesn't want the money going to fund capital projects.

While campaigning, Schneider said he felt Columbia was split into two factions: residents who use the association's recreational amenities and those who do not. The Columbia Association charges all property owners an annual fee based on property value, and Schneider wants those who don't use the facilities to feel as though they are getting their money's worth.

"Now that the council is basically pro-resident, I think we need to look at some equity issues," said Schneider, 63, staff engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Larson, 62, a writer, was chairwoman of the association's budget committee for the past two years. Former council representative Linda Odum voted for Larson, saying she was a "great admirer" of Larson's committee work.

First contested race

Yesterday was the first contested council election for Town Center in recent years, and resident Sandy Queen said she was happy to see some competition. She cast her vote for Malone, saying that she felt it was time for a change, though she held nothing personal against Rice, 59, who runs a boutique and two businesses from her home.

"I hope we get a little bit of different blood in there," Queen said.

In his campaign, Malone challenged Rice's attendance record at council meetings, saying she frequently missed meetings and voted on council matters by proxy - allowing another council member to cast her votes in her absence.

At the beginning of his two-year term, Malone said he wants to find a way for the council to not be so "acrimonious."

"We just need to come to some common plan on how we can move forward," said Malone, 53, who operates an Internet portal hosting service from his home.

Financial health

Coffman, who won his fifth one-year term, has been the council chairman for the past two years. He doesn't plan to seek the position again.

In his new term, Coffman wants to continue focusing on the association's financial health and to determine an appropriate level for its long-term $72.4 million debt.

"The biggest thing is not to increase" the debt, said Coffman, 54, a vice president at M&T Bank. "If we just continue on the current [payment schedule], we will greatly reduce that over the next couple years, and that will give us the ability to do some other things."

Canvassing concerns

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