Speakout!

April 16, 2006

THE ISSUE: -- This month, Columbia residents will go to the polls to vote for the Columbia Council and village board members. Or will they? These elections don't generate a large turnout. If you plan to vote, why? If you don't plan to vote, why not?

First, ask questions, then cast a vote

If there was ever a year to vote, this is it. With the upcoming billion-dollar redevelopment of downtown, much is at stake.

Meanwhile, at the Columbia Association we find closed-door sessions, backroom deals, imprecise minutes, CA staff who get away with making major decisions that bypass the elected board of directors. This occurs despite the continued efforts of a few conscientious representatives.

Fortunately, Columbia has several opportunities this year to help change the character of the CA board. Investigate carefully -- all the candidates claim to be in favor of openness and accountability, but the actions of some belie this claim.

Ask if your CA candidate did -- or would -- vote to keep downtown partnership meetings open. Ask incumbents how many other types of CA meetings they have voted to close. Ask whether your candidate will answer first to the citizens or to the CA corporation. Follow up by asking whether your candidate will insist that the results of the first night of the downtown charrette be made public, so that you can assess for yourself whether the current downtown proposals match the citizens' vision, as claimed.

Ask whether your candidate will insist that the developers who stand to make a huge profit from downtown will be held accountable for providing recreational and cultural amenities, as is customary in such projects. Ask whether your candidate supports a special assessment for Town Center residents to help pay for the upkeep of downtown.

This year, I'll be asking -- and voting.

Rebecca Johnson

Columbia

When it comes to issues, be active

Columbia Council and village board elections are around the corner, but not enough Columbians vote. If they sat in on some board meetings and if they listened, really listened, to questions raised by Columbia residents, more people would vote and begin to ask some questions of their own.

CA staff's expensive and effective public relation strategies plaster over the real issues of secret meetings, unaccountable spending and infringing on the CA board's policymaking responsibilities. The mission of the CA board and corporation and its CA staff is supposed to serve the interests of CA residents. Instead, staff efforts often focus on self-interests.

The CA board is failing in its oversight function. Career and political interests of some CA Board members often conflict with the interests of CA residents.

Responses to residents' requests for information are delayed, evaded, ignored and sometimes answered incompletely or inaccurately. CA continues to function primarily in secret to maintain total control of its massive budget.

It really is the responsibility of Columbia residents to respect themselves by taking an active part in understanding and acting on issues that will have major impact on their lives in Columbia: Town Center planning and demanding more openness and accountability in CA governance. The first step is to know your candidates and vote in the current elections.

Lillian and Henry Shapiro

Columbia

The most critical elections in years

Elections of village board members and village representatives to the Columbia Association (CA) Board of Directors are April 22, except for Town Center, which is April 29. These are the most critical elections in years. The CA board members, who are also your only representatives to the association, will play a major role in the downtown partnership that will determine the future of Columbia's downtown.

In the past, the CA board has often acted as de facto staff, merely assenting to the issues brought before them by CA. This year, it it is critical that you elect someone who will represent the residents of Columbia. The only way to ensure this is by voting for a CA representative who advocates citizen participation and openness in the CA board's decision-making process.

We need a board whose primary allegiance is to us, the lien payers, and secondarily to the CA staff. A board that will demand to be involved in the decision-making and is unafraid to let the public see how it operates. Find out who your candidates are and their positions on these issues. Then go and vote.

John David Smith

Columbia

Columbia residents are not represented

Voting implies a representative form of government. These people do not represent the residents of Columbia. By their own admission, they represent CA and Maggie's [CA President Maggie J. Brown] minions.

T.J. Leeds

Columbia

We need strong, independent leaders

I plan to vote in the Town Center election because I believe the proposed redevelopment of downtown Columbia calls for strong, independent members of the CA board.

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