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Columbia Association Citizens Academy returns for 2017 session

Columbia Association's annual citizen academy, "Excite Columbia," is back for its fourth year, giving residents a chance to learn about the history and functions of the local organization.

The academy, taking place in three sessions on Oct. 3, 10 and 17, includes presentations and panels by Columbia Association staff, including President Milton Matthews, who will give in-depth explanations on the organization's operations and programming.

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Director of Communications and Marketing Norma Heim said the sessions give residents a chance to clear up misconceptions about the role of the association, something she said is often misunderstood.

"People are very confused between what Columbia Association does and what Howard County does," Heim said. "They look at Columbia Association as a government. We are not. Howard County provides police, schools, county services."

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A nonprofit, the Columbia Association was established by Columbia's founder, Jim Rouse, as an organization that works to maintain the high quality of life in Columbia, Heim said. The association does so by maintaining amenities such as parks, pools and community programs in the town.

"Excite Columbia" offers residents a chance to learn more about those different entities run by the association from the people most directly involved in the work, as well as offer their ideas for the future of Columbia. Heim said that this will be her seventh time participating in the academy, and that she learns something new each time.

Speakers for the sessions include directors from several of Columbia Association's departments, including finance, sports and fitness, community services and the office of planning and community affairs.

Heim said Columbia residents should consider participating because of the financial interest they naturally have in the association if they own property in Columbia. Property owners in Columbia who live on land managed by the association pay an annual fee that the organization uses for its programming; Heim said residents should be interested in where that money goes.

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The association anticipates between 15 and 25 people to attend the academy, and Heim said participants range from new Columbia residents who want to learn about the town to long-time residents who may be considering running for a seat on one of the local village boards.

"It helps a lot of if you understand the structure before you govern it," she said.

This year's three-week academy is shorter than in previous years, which included six sessions, Heim said, but the change is meant to help retain participants from one session to the next.

The sessions will take place at Columbia Association's headquarters on Hillside Court. Those interested in participating must register beforehand on the association's website.

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