The Greater Towson Council of Community Associations is a part of Towson's "shadow government," according to Mike Ertel, a former president of the organization.
He notes that Towson may be the Baltimore County seat. But it is not an incorporated municipality.
"We don't have a mayor and we're not going to have a mayor," Ertel said. "Groups determine what goes on in Towson."
Ertel calls those groups the "Towson T's," the nonprofits that work with — or sometimes butt heads with — one another and government representatives to make Towson better.
For instance, the Towson Chamber of Commerce promotes and shepherds the business community.
The Greater Towson Committee advocates for commercial development.
And the all-volunteer Greater Towson Council of Community Associations supports community associations that represent residential neighborhoods.
Over the course of the GTCCA's 36-year existence, that support has translated into discussion, advice, a position letter — or in one case a $325 check to partially reimburse the Towson Park Community Association for legal fees related to a zoning case with far-reaching repercussions.
GTCCA was "a great help to us when we were fighting (that) zoning change," said association president Nancy Pivec. "Towson Park really appreciated both their guidance and the assistance with the legal fees. It is a great organization."
Spanning nearly four decades, the group has had an impact on county legislation related to home office use, cell towers, rooming and boarding houses, redevelopment of shopping centers, installation of traffic calming devices, design of new development and the effort to make downtown Towson more pedestrian-friendly.
Trish Mayhugh, president of the Riderwood Hills Community Association, calls the GTCCA, "a great group of movers and shakers who have their fingers on the pulse of what's going on in Towson."
Dick Parsons, a past president and a founding member of the GTCCA, says it was founded in 1975 as the brainchild of former Burkleigh Square resident Randy Richardson.
"He believed the neighborhoods were being played for suckers by developers and their lawyers," he said.
Initially, Richardson pulled together representatives of eight associations. They met in each other's houses.
The first big accomplishment was getting grates put in over storm drains on Towsontown Boulevard to prevent them from catching bicycle wheels.
"We didn't quite know what we were doing," Parsons said. "We didn't know how to flex our muscles, and we weren't taken seriously."
Today, the GTCCA has "a lot of clout," said past President Ed Kilcullen of Towson Manor Village.
"We are seen as an organization with a large membership," he said. "Developers will contact us to pitch an idea and put out feelers to see how the community is going to react."
Some say GTCCA's influence is best shown in things that didn't happen in Towson. For instance, there's no 75-foot-high cell tower in Southland Hills.