www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/columbia/ph-ho-cf-columbia-elections-0502-20130502,0,5928772.story

baltimoresun.com

Board members differ on interpretation of CA election results

By Luke Lavoie, llavoie@tribune.com

1:39 PM EDT, May 2, 2013

Advertisement

When the dust settled on the 2013 Columbia Association elections last weekend, the picture of the CA Board of Directors remained largely the same, with only three new representatives coming into the fold.

Of the three, two, Nancy McCord of Wilde Lake and Russ Swatek of Long Reach, were elected in the four contested races, while Brian Dunn ran unopposed in Kings Contrivance.

"It was an interesting set of elections, the most contested elections we've had in awhile," said board member Andy Stack of Owen Brown.

And while the final tallies are undebatable, some board members differ on what the results say about the previous board, and specifically its Feb. 14 approval of the Inner Arbor Plan — a concept for Symphony Woods Park that proposes building an arts village east of Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Tom Coale, of Dorsey's Search, said the unopposed victories for himself, Dunn and Hickory Ridge representative Gregg Schwind, all of whom favor the plan, show that the public is supportive of the plan.

"Those that supported the Inner Arbor Plan were, for the most part, elected without a challenge," Coale said. "That says something about those board members and their service over the past year."

Inner Arbor proponent and River Hill representative Michael Cornell, who defeated challenger and Inner Arbor skeptic Clayborne Chavers by a vote of 111-41, agrees with Coale.

"A lot of the existing members will be returning, so it's going to be a good core to keep us moving in the right direction," said Cornell, who was the only Inner Arbor proponent re-elected in a contested race.

Meanwhile, the three board members skeptical of the Inner Arbor Plan — the recently elected Swatek, Oakland Mills representative Alex Hekimian and Harper's Choice representative Cynthia Coyle — see the election results differently.

"In contested elections it was a clear choice. In uncontested elections people didn't have a choice. I don't read much into the uncontested elections," said Hekimian, who defeated Inner Arbor proponent Julia McCready, 329-182.

"If indeed people were happy with what's going on with Symphony Woods, I would not have been elected, Russ would not have been elected. I think there is a message there."

Coyle said the board's hastened approval of the Inner Arbor Plan three weeks after it was formally introduced to the public influenced the results.

"That was not done well. As a result there were a lot of people that came forward and said, 'This is not working,' " Coyle said.

One of those people was Swatek, who said he decided to run following the Feb. 14 vote.

"It wasn't the plan itself. It was the way in which they put it forth," said Swatek, who defeated incumbent and Inner Arbor proponent Ed Coleman, 270-157, in Long Reach, which reported its results one week later than the other villages after adding an extra election day on April 27.

Swatek said the large margin of victories for himself and Hekimian are indicative that not everyone was happy with the previous board.

"It says something that he won big and I won big," Swatek said.

Coale said he doesn't see it that way.

"I don't think you can look at those numbers and extrapolate any kind of meaning," Coale said. "You can't interpret sentiment of thousands of residents from the hundreds who voted. You can only interpret it from those who voted."

Although Inner Arbor proponents Coleman and Regina Clay of Wilde Lake were not re-elected, a majority in favor of the Inner Arbor remains intact.

Six of the new board members are in favor of moving forward with the Inner Arbor Plan, while three are hesitant.

The lone undeclared board member is McCord, who has not yet publicly expressed an opinion on the plan, stating she wants to receive more information before taking a stance.

For Coale and the Inner Arbor proponents, the intact majority is a good sign.

"I'm not concerned about anything changing one way or another as a result of these elections," he said.

On the other side, Hekimian said the election of McCord and Swatek bring more skepticism to the board, which could change the dynamic.

"With this new board, there will be more questions and that's a good thing," he said. "Differences of opinion make for a better result."

CA will hold its new board member orientation on May 2. On May 9, the 10 Columbia Council representatives will hold the annual meeting to elect each other to the CA board.