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A look into the 21st century Columbia Forum examines variety of issues


Karen Kuecker, a member of the Columbia Council, went to Atholton High School yesterday to talk about local government. Gloria Greene went to consider how to strengthen Columbia's sense of community. Rabbi Martin Siegel discussed ways to make the Town Center a better "people place."

They were among about approximately 70 Columbia residents who gathered at a daylong citizens forum to set their sights on Columbia's future.

The Columbia Forum sponsored the session to get feedback on a new report it has prepared to guide Columbia into the 21st century.

The report, called "An Agenda for Columbia," lists more than 100 recommendations on such issues as the arts, the environment and transportation.

Participants broke into a dozen small groups to evaluate the recommendations, but they appeared to be most interested in discussing Columbia's government, sense of community and downtown planning.

Members of the Columbia Forum will consider those ideas as they revise the report and start putting its recommendations into action with the help of the county, the Columbia Association and the Rouse Co., Columbia's developer.

Some citizens criticized the report for giving little weight to the idea of transforming Columbia into a city with an elected mayor and council to oversee municipal services.

"I feel there is a need for change," said Jim Clark, a Wilde Lake resident. I think that we should be discussing . . . whether we want a municipal-type government. I don't see that reflected here."

Mr. Clark said the report contains guidelines that are too strict to consider any form of government other than the existing Columbia Association, a non-profit group that oversees community facilities.

Another resident agreed, saying the report's recommended changes for the association are good for the short term but that other forms of government must be studied for the future.

The report's recommendations include allowing all residents over to vote in village elections and extending the terms of council members to two years.

Mrs. Kuecker, a resident of Owen Brown, said she believes the one-person, one-vote proposal is the report's "burning issue." Most of Columbia's villages now permit one vote per property during community elections.

"I think it's a tough thing to do, but it's something we need to do," said Mrs. Kuecker, who noted that the recommendation would force changes in the bylaws of each village to permit the new procedure.

During a session on downtown planning, Mr. Siegel called the Town Center "a people place that ain't." The Wilde Lake resident said the Columbia downtown needs to be more like Harborplace in Baltimore, with destination spots for families and more shops.

Rabbi Siegel and other residents discussing the downtown issue said citizens must work with county and association officials, Rouse representatives, urban planners and architects to make the Town Center more attractive.

Meanwhile, citizens discussing Columbia's sense of community agreed that the program established to welcome new residents needs to be enhanced so that people moving in will get a better understanding of Columbia's history and its goals as a community of racial and ethnic diversity.

The group also suggested that annual events, such as the city fair, be established and expanded.

"I want to keep people caring about Columbia," said Ms. Greene, a resident of Kings Contrivance and a member of the Columbia Forum.

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