One incumbent and two newcomers were elected to serve on the Columbia Council in contested races in the village dections held Saturday, April 26.
Newcomer Jeanne Ketley narrowly unseated longtime Town Center representative Suzanne Waller by a vote of 141-75. In Hickory Ridge, where a quorum was reached for the first time in recent years, incumbent Gregg Schwind defeated challenger Harry Schwarz, 189-147.
Alan Klein will succeed long-serving Harper's Choice representative Cynthia Coyle, who did not seek re-election, after defeating newcomer Bob Fontaine by a vote of 196-179.
All three vote tallies do not include a substantial number of votes allocated by Columbia Association-owned parcels, which are tacked on at the end of the election to the candidate who got the most votes in each village. In Harper’s Choice, 73 CA votes were cast for Klein. In Hickory Ridge, 85 CA votes went to Schwind and Ketley received the 50 CA votes in Town Center.
Reg Avery, who ran uncontested, was voted to replace Alex Hekimian and serve a one-year term as representative of Oakland Mills.
Ketley and Klein will serve two-year terms, while Schwind will serve his sixth consecutive one-year term.
The annual elections give residents in Columbia's 10 independently run villages a chance to choose their representative on the 10-member governing body of the Columbia Association — a $65 million mega-homeowner’s association responsible for running much of the planned community's parks, amenities and open space.
The association, which collects a tax-like fee from residents, is managed by the 10 representatives elected to the Columbia Council, which transforms into the Columbia Association Board of Directors after elections.
Despite the importance of serving on the board, the annual voter turnout is consistently low — a trend that, to some degree, continued in Saturday’s election. A total of 927 votes in three contested races were tallied, not including the 208 CA votes, which have no affect on the outcome.
Schwind, who won by the biggest margin, said, although it appears low, he was pleased with turnout and gratified he was re-elected.
Ketley, who won by 66 votes, said the turnout was unfortunate but that she was happy it was “a clean win.”
“I'm feeling very, very good,” she said. “I think the message is Town Center wants change, and I’m glad I can make that happen.”
Klein said he was “humbled by the faith” residents put in him, and attributed his 17-vote victory to his campaign approach.
“My campaign was about particular issues,” he said. “What the election says to me is voters resonate with the issues.”
Most prominent among those issues was the controversy swirling around Symphony Woods, 36 acres of CA-owned open space in downtown Columbia surrounding Merriweather Post Pavilion.
The plans in development by the Inner Arbor Trust would create a curated arts park on the site, which has long been ear-marked as a community park. The plans have been well received by officials within Howard County government’s Department of Planning and Zoning, but there has been some push back from a contingency of residents who are advocating for an alternative plan developed by the original park designers, which is spearheaded by Cy Paumier.
The alternative plan is a reboot of the original plan developed for the park, which was discarded for the new plan February 2013.
All three elected in contested races Saturday are vocal skeptics of the plan and their election could swing the CA board’s position from one of support to dissension.
Schwind, who currently serves as a CA representative within the Trust's board, said he is taking seriously concerns raised by residents about the project.
“There are a lot of folks out there not satisfied with the current plan for Symphony Woods, and I don’t think we can just ignore that,” he said. “If it means going back and reworking the plan then I'm willing to do that.”