Downtown partnership meetings to remain open

Tie vote by Columbia Association board defeats bid for closures


An amendment that would have allowed downtown partnership meetings to be closed to the public has failed.

The Columbia Association board voted Thursday night against a proposal by Miles Coff- man, the board's representative for Hickory Ridge. The amendment, which failed in a tie vote, would have allowed association staffers to continue discussions in the partnership meetings but would have required them to routinely present updated reports to the board and the public.

Columbia's downtown partnership meetings are brainstorming sessions among county officials, association staff and General Growth Properties Inc. about the redevelopment of Town Center.

Coffman said that one reason he proposed the amendment last month was to ensure that officials in the sessions have the freedom to speak at will. His concern was that residents and the media might take comments out of context.

Before the board's vote on the amendment, some residents asked that the meetings be kept open.

"I urge you to defeat the amendment and continue your practice of announcing the meetings and keeping them open," said Tom Scott, a resident of Wilde Lake, as he read a statement to the board. "I think CA should go out of its way to sponsor and promote open meetings. I would like to think CA would want to improve its reputation of openness rather than further tarnish it."

As board members discussed the amendment, a group of about a dozen residents reacted to members' statements. When Phil Marcus, the board's representative for Kings Contrivance, said that it is wrong for the Columbia Association, a public body, to engage in private conversations about downtown development, residents applauded.

Joshua Feldmark, the board's representative for Wilde Lake, said he was glad that the board upheld a previous decision that kept the downtown partnerships meetings open.

"Like I've said every time the issue is presented, this issue is different," said Feldmark. "The issue of downtown is different than other issues we face, and it needs to be transparent. I simply do not buy into the concern that groups will have to hold back because it's a public meeting."

Scott said he was pleased with the decision and the association's attempts to keep meetings open.

Scott added that there had been instances when association meetings were "secret" and not advertised. One example, he said, was a board meeting about the fate of the association's headquarters during the county-sponsored charrette in October.

In other business, the board approved, on a 7-1 vote, the planting of 65 cherry trees at four places in Columbia.

The planting is part of Tree Blossoms of Hope, an initiative by Howard County Tourism to plant 1,000 cherry trees in the county. Officials hope that the program will be a spring tourism draw similar to that of Washington's cherry blossoms.

The trees will be planted at Lake Elkhorn Park, Symphony Woods, Kennedy Gardens at the Town Center lakefront and Wilde Lake Park at a cost of $13,860, according to a document presented to the board.

The project is expected to begin this spring.

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