Oakland Mills organizer seeks more responsibility

But questions arise about her goal to take on additional, similar job for Wilde Lake

March 21, 2010|By Don Markus | don.markus@baltsun.com

Dorita Forehand wasn't very optimistic about her chances of continuing in a job as community organizer for the village of Oakland Mills after her contract was scheduled to run out April 30.

She expected her part-time position, which she took over in September, would be the victim of budget cuts by the Columbia Association. Then came the hearing Feb. 27, when Forehand's future would be determined.

Forehand said that she was "pleasantly surprised" when the association board voted not only to maintain the community organizer position in Oakland Mills for the next two years, but had the money to do the same for Wilde Lake, which previously didn't have a community organizer. A former labor-relations specialist with the U.S. attorney's office who now works three part-time jobs to support herself, Forehand said that she would like to pursue both community organizer positions.

But the 45-year-old Owen Brown resident has been told that she would "probably have to reapply" for her current job or be selected by the Oakland Mills village board. She believes her chances of getting the Wilde Lake position are not promising.

"I'm concerned they [the Oakland Mills village board] may go with a different candidate because I expressed and had a desire to work part time with Wilde Lake," Forehand said.

Because of the two villages' infighting over the community organizer position - Wilde Lake board members have often expressed their displeasure about Oakland Mills having one while they did not - Forehand believes she could get caught in the middle and eventually left out in the cold.

"When we found out that there was definite funding for both positions, I addressed our village board of directors on that, whether they would have an objection for the community organizer for Oakland Mills being the community organizer for Wilde Lake, with the understanding that there would be a clear separation; standard operation procedures would have to be worked out regarding sharing of information," Forehand said.

"In conversation, the board said, 'Wow. You already give us full-time here, we wouldn't want you to go work for anyone else," Forehand said. "But the reality is that I've worked three part-time jobs since the day I was hired here," said Forehand, who works as a tour operator in Baltimore as well as a freelance editor.

Abby Hendrix, who chairs the Oakland Mills village board, said that the community organizer position grew out of a "two-year grass-roots effort" outlined in the community's master plan. "Our goals were clearly defined," Hendrix said. "Because of that, we haven't even started a discussion with Wilde Lake as to what they are interested in, and if they are looking at it the same way we are."

County Council member Calvin Ball, who held the post for one year in 2005 before running for the council, said that Forehand has "been a great partner on serving the residents of Oakland Mills, ensuring there is a vitality and an engagement throughout the community," but is not sure the same person can work the same capacity in Wilde Lake simultaneously.

Part of Ball's doubts stem from the fact that the program in Oakland Mills is well-established.

"The Oakland Mills volunteer base - the people who are committed to making sure Oakland Mills was successful - was broad and deep," said Ball, who still lives in Oakland Mills and represents the community on the council. "There were people of every type of background and persuasion committed to putting their time, their energy, their money, their creativity to ensuring Oakland Mills success. It was demonstrated for years before I, as an organizer, began organizing."

Karen Gray, who as chairman of the Oakland Mills village board helped establish the community organizer position in 2005, said, "You're working with a lot of different people. You're working with volunteers, and it's not like a position in a regular job where, if they don't do their job, you can fire them. It's a very difficult job with lots of stress, I think."

As for doing both jobs, Gray said, "there's very different things going on in the two communities. I think it would depend on the ability and the personality of the organizer. ... Wilde Lake is in a very different place than Oakland Mills. Because of the history of the revitalization of Oakland Mills, it's sort of a more cooperative place to work. In Wilde Lake, people have hardened sides because of what's happened at the Village Center. It would be a different kind of atmosphere and the way you deal with people."

Forehand said that she has experience that would benefit her if she were to get the Wilde Lake position as well. She said that the toughest part of her job in Oakland Mills has been "balancing the competing needs of the village board of directors and village manager with the needs of particular community members or a community group. At times there is tension between those needs, and so I try to get collaboration and cooperation so we can meet both sets of needs."

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