Columbia Council votes to disband

10-member body to act only as board of directors of Columbia Association

Some see less confusion

one sees problems

July 17, 2005|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

The era of the Columbia Council is over.

In a significant change to the governing structure of the planned community, the council has voted to disband, and the 10-member group will act only as the board of directors for the Columbia Association.

Those who voted for the change Thursday night contend it will significantly reduce the confusion that has been caused by having two bodies - the council and board - made up of the same people, when the council had virtually no power.

But one council member fears that dissolving the council alters the members' abilities to express personal opinions and effectively be advocates for their villages.

"I'm totally frustrated with this process," Councilwoman Barbara Russell, who represents Oakland Mills and voted against the resolution to abolish the council, said after the meeting.

The resolution, which the council approved, 7--2, with one member absent, is contingent on the board approving changes to the Columbia Association charter, which will be discussed in September. But for all practical purposes, the council no longer exists.

The same 10 people have not always acted as both the board and council. During Columbia's first 15 years, the board consisted of employees of the Rouse Co., which developed the 38-year-old suburb. Rouse has since been bought by General Growth Properties. The council, with residents serving as members, acted only in an advisory role.

By 1982, residents controlled both panels, and the governance structure has remained that way. Each of Columbia's 10 villages elects a council member, who then appoints himself or herself to the board. The board has been the body that decides most serious issues, from approving budgets to reviewing the association president's performance.

Before Thursday's vote, Jud Malone, who represents Town Center on the council, said, "This organization now serves to confuse."

However, Russell contends that with the group acting only as the board for the nonprofit Columbia Association, the members' sole obligation would be to the corporation. She said the result will be that board members would not be free to discuss personal views with the public or share information with residents that is not already general knowledge. The board chairman would act as the spokesman for the group, she said.

"I don't think that the public knows clearly what those restrictions are," Russell said. "And I think we owe it to the public to educate them."

Russell said she is unsure how she will act now because of the restrictions.

"We should be as open and as transparent as we can, but on the other hand, I don't want to subject myself to either being removed from the board by my fellow board members or being sued because I choose to ignore legal advice as to how I should conduct myself as a board member," she said. "That is a big quandary."

However, Phil Marcus, who represents Kings Contrivance on the council, contends that the board's rules allow members to do or say anything as long as it does not interfere with carrying out board policies.

"I think that we're well protected," he said.

Patrick von Schlag, who represents River Hill on the council, said abolishing the council will erase the false impression that the council and board have separate responsibilities - to the public and to the corporation. He said by acting only as the board, "we make it very clear where the buck stops, and there is one organization that is responsible."

Russell said eliminating the council will further confuse residents because the public must still elect council representatives - as dictated by village charters - for a body that no longer exists.

"We're going to elect Columbia Council members, then we're going to abolish the council," she said. "What's more confusing than that?"

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