Columbia elections set for weekend

Council, village seats are on ballot

April 18, 2007|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,SUN REPORTER

Five of the seven Columbia Council seats to be filled in elections this weekend are being contested, with issues ranging from village revitalization and downtown development to the handling of contract negotiations with the association's president.

Incumbents are facing challengers in Dorsey's Search, Hickory Ridge, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake and two newcomers are vying in Kings Contrivance.

Running unopposed are incumbent Henry F. Dagenais in Long Reach and newcomer Michael Cornell in River Hill, where incumbent Patrick von Schlag is not seeking re-election.

The Columbia Council is the advisory board for the Columbia Association, which provides recreational services for Columbia's nearly 100,000 residents, manages more than 3,400 acres of open space and has an annual budget of about $50 million.

The council meets once a year, in May, when the elected representatives appoint themselves to the Columbia Association's board of directors. The 10-member board meets twice a month.

Not up for election this year are council seats in Harper's Choice, Owen Brown and Town Center.

In addition to the council races, Columbia's 10 village boards will hold elections this weekend.

Here is a look at the 10 Columbia Council candidates running in contested races:


Board Chairman Tom O'Connor, 55, is being challenged for his fourth term by Lester Straw, former director of parks for Montgomery County.

Straw, 70, said he would like to restore a "sense of civility and goodwill" to the board of directors. He said he wants the association to ask the county to take over some of its recreation programs to help cut costs.

Straw criticized O'Connor for comments made by board members during contract extension talks with Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown. The length of the extension evenly divided the board, with five members in favor of the three-year extension she wanted and the other five in favor of a one-year deal. The board offered her an extension last month, the details of which have not been released.

"That stuff should have not happened," Straw said. "If they were going to talk about her contract, then it all should have happened in a closed session."

O'Connor defended his actions as chairman and said the negotiations were carried on in a closed meeting. He said Brown's image was not tarnished by the board's actions.

"She is not losing any support in Columbia," O'Connor said. "When people read the newspapers about what happened with the bickering, more than anything else Maggie has not lost one bit of respect."

O'Connor said he would like to continue working to refine the board's committee process.

"As the chairman of the board, I am more of a traffic cop, and I have been able to be evenhanded and move the agenda along," he said.


Seven-year incumbent Miles Coffman, 57, a banker, is running against Marvin Lawson, 62, a pest-management consultant and retired Army officer.

Coffman said he is running for another term because he wants to continue working to restructure Columbia's governance and limit the association's debt.

"I am still working with the debt issue and to continue to reduce that debt so we can free up funds to do other things," Coffman said.

Lawson said he wants to survey residents of Columbia to see what issues are important to them. Lawson also said he would like to see the board strongly advocate for redevelopment of Town Center.

"I would like to see CA get involved in some plans for Symphony Woods to make it the equivalent of what Central Park is to New York," he said. "I would support adding public art and things like an ice skating rink."

Coffman said of downtown development: "I am not ready to take a position on that. We need more information about plans."


Jason Ridgell, an attorney and village board member, is running against Evan Coren, a federal government employee, for the seat held by Phil Marcus, the board's vice chairman, who is not seeking re-election.

Coren, 28, said he wants to be a voice for the community and wants to foster more transparency on the board by creating an online database to track how each member votes.

"This provides more clarity," Coren said. "Residents can see what policy decision the board has taken and how each member voted."

Ridgell, 36, said he wants to address the revitalization of Kings Contrivance Village Center. Merchants have said they have seen a large decline in customers since the Safeway supermarket closed last year. A Harris Teeter grocery store is planned for the Safeway site. Demolition has begun on the Safeway building.

"I want to keep the village center modern and vibrant," Ridgell said.

Ridgell said his two years on the Kings Contrivance Village Board have made him more aware of the community's issues.

Coren said the Columbia Council "is a different type of experience" that requires knowing about more than just one village.


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