A group of Columbia residents is proposing legislation to members of the state delegation that, if enacted, would make all Columbia Association "lot owners" corporate members of CA.
Currently, the only members of CA are the 10 members of the CA board of directors.
According to the group of residents proposing the new bill, which includes two representatives from the Alliance for a Better Columbia and the president of the Maryland Homeowner's Association, Jeanne Ketley, the purpose of the legislation is to make CA more like traditional homeowners associations, of which all residential lot owners are members.
"We are not asking for something that will make us stand out or different," said group representative and Oakland Mills resident Bill McCormack. "In fact, CA, as it is structured now, stands out and is different. In this case, we want to be like everybody else and adopt a structure that is tried, tested and true."
"When we are supporting CA through the lien fee, we need to have representation. That's critical, that is how we do things in America."
The intention of the legislation, which would act as an amendment to the Maryland Homeowner's Association Act, is to bring a formalized voice to the residential lien-payers of Columbia.
"It wouldn't give total power to the people, but it would certainly give a great deal more power than we have now, which is basically nil," said Joel Pearlman from ABC.
According to Pearlman, under HOA law corporate members are required to have one annual meeting, at which the members can vote on polarizing issues like amendments to governing documents and considerations for the annual budget.
Currently, because lien-payers are not members, there is no such open meeting for CA residential lien-payers.
"All we are looking to do is make minimal changes to allow (the residential lien-payers) to have one public meeting a year to decide on which issues are important," Pearlman said. "Whatever it is in the future people think is important enough to deal with, this would give them a forum to do that."
Pearlman said the changes are meant to affect the political structure of the organization, not the legal structure, meaning the CA board would still be in charge of the majority of policy decisions.
"This is not recreating Columbia, just improving it," Pearlman said.
The new bill was prompted by alternative legislation proposed by members of CA staff, which, if enacted would reclassify CA, and possibly Columbia's 10 villages, under the HOA act from homeowners associations to nonprofit community services corporations.
The purpose of the CA staff legislation is to place the organization into a category that better suits its unique size and structure, according to CA general counsel Sheri Fanaroff.
A board recommendation on the staff-proposed bill, which has been discussed by the CA board at 11 meetings since the original draft was introduced in March of 2011, recently was tabled until January to give independent legal counsel hired by the 10 villages an opportunity to review the legislation.
Members from ABC, the MHA and the public have been critical of the CA staff legislation, arguing it is not needed and could make CA less transparent.
Their proposal, they say, does not address the same issues as the CA staff proposal, but was inspired by it and would move CA forward.
But opposition to the new proposal is likely.
In response to the proposal, CA released the following statement from general counsel Fanaroff:
"This proposal would change the fundamental structure of an organization such as Columbia Association and could create serious and possibly unintended consequences, including raising legal and financial issues for CA. Columbia Association is a corporation that is more than 45 years old and has bond obligations and other contracts that could be impaired by such a fundamental change."
McCormack said the bill would increase communication lines and connectivity between the CA board and residential lien-payers.
"By making a lien-payer a member, it completes the loop and brings Columbia closer together," McCormack said. "Because we lien-payers are not members, the board is disconnected from us. If our legislation goes through, the CA staff is working for us, because we are the members and owners of CA."
In crafting the legislation, the group cited two large homeowner's associations, the Reston Association in Fairfax County, Va., and Montgomery Village in Montgomery County, as templates for developing an inclusive membership structure for CA.
While Reston and Montgomery Village, with about 65,000 and 40,000 residents respectively, are smaller than CA, the group believes they can borrow articles of incorporation from their bylaws and apply them to CA.
Currently the group is in the process finding a member of the state delegation to sponsor the bill. Because the bill applies to homeowner's associations statewide, that sponsor does not have to be from Howard County.
However, supporters said they are optimistic the bill will be sponsored by one of the 11 members of the local delegation.
State Del. Liz Bobo, a Columbia Democrat who serves on the House subcommittee that deals with homeowners issues, said she has an open mind toward the legislation, but would not sponsor the bill until the future of the original legislation proposed by CA staff was resolved.
CA board member and Oakland Mills representative Alex Hekimian, who is opposed to the CA staff-proposed legislation, said he thinks the idea behind the alternative legislation is good for CA and Columbia.
"It looks like Columbia's homeowners would have the same rights as other organizations, so it's not radical; it's rights that other homeowners already have," Hekimian said.