Columbia panels to hold elections

2 contested races each for council, village boards

5 council members running unopposed

Votes scheduled for all villages except Owen Brown

April 29, 2005|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Tomorrow, an embattled Columbia Council representative will attempt to retain his seat and another incumbent faces his first challenge, as voters elect council members in the only two contested races in this year's elections for the planned community's advisory body.

David Hlass, in Long Reach village, and Tom O'Connor of Dorsey's Search, both are running for re-election to the council. They face Henry F. "Hank" Dagenais and Robert Ballinger, respectively.

Five other races for the unpaid, 10-mem- ber council, are uncontested. Incumbents Miles Coff- man of Hickory Ridge, Joshua Feldmark of Wilde Lake, Phil Marcus of Kings Contrivance and Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills are running unopposed. In River Hill, candidate Patrick von Schlag, a member of the village's board, also faces no competition.

The representatives from the three remaining villages - Jud Malone in Town Center, Wolfger Schneider in Harper's Choice and Pearl Atkinson-Stewart in Owen Brown - are in the middle of their two-year terms on the body, which also acts as the Columbia Association's board of directors.

Residents also will elect representatives to their respective village boards, except in Owen Brown, which is not holding an election because its race is uncontested.

The highest-profile race is in Long Reach, where Hlass is being challenged after a controversial first two-year term.

Hlass, 50, was banned from Long Reach Village Center by the shopping center's management firm in June after being accused of harassing employees. Hlass has denied such accusations, claiming the ban was retaliation for his trying to make the company attend to tenants' concerns.

In February, the association board reprimanded Hlass for releasing confidential information on Columbia Association staff salaries to Long Reach Village Board members and placed him on probation, threatening to remove him from the board.

Hlass, a retired military officer and pilot, defended his actions and said he is "trying to bring results for people.

"Do you want to be a representative of the people and [village] board and share documents with members so they understand, or do you allow CA to withhold and classify information?" he said. "As a representative, you have to share the good with the bad, and all the information with the board and the constituents."

If he wins a second term, Hlass wants to erect signs on walking paths that indicate to people where they are and to ensure that the Columbia Association operates in a cost-effective manner.

Dagenais, 73, who headed the Long Reach Village Board for nearly five years ending in 2001, has been concerned about Hlass' behavior and believes he can help create a more collegial relationship with the council.

"I feel that I can debate, discuss and represent the village in a more amicable way, thereby being a more productive representative for the village," he said.

Dagenais said he agrees with some of Hlass' ideas - such as holding association staff accountable and wanting Jackson Pond dredged - but he feels Hlass' approach alienated some and harmed the village's relationship with the council.

"You know the old story, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar," said Dagenais, a retired Army colonel.

In Dorsey's Search, the 53-year-old O'Connor is seeking his third two-year term on the council. For the first time, he is facing a challenger and has had to campaign actively, going door to door.

"I'm getting very positive responses from the neighbors," he said. "I think that, overall, there's a satisfaction rating that's very high. There's a group of people out there who's always going to be dissatisfied with us, and I respect that, there's nothing wrong with that."

Ballinger, 39, a former Dorsey's Search Village Board member, said that during his campaigning, residents have complained about a council that doesn't allow residents to fully participate in the governing process. He said the group, when it acts as the board, holds too many closed meetings and does not provide information about meetings and issues to residents in a timely manner.

"If people believed they were in the process, they would feel positive about it. People don't feel that way," he said. "When you've got to worry about having a security guard working at a Columbia Council meeting, you've got to wonder if people are really able to speak their point or get the information they need."

O'Connor, an independent sales representative for a company that sells electronic production equipment, defends the board's executive session meetings and said they were closed for legitimate reasons.

"Most were discussions with counsel or to discuss contracts," he said. The reasons to close the meetings "are all listed under the Maryland Home Owners Association Act."

If elected, O'Connor wants to focus on improving customer relations at association facilities, which include three gyms, two golf courses and 23 outdoor swimming pools.

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