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Change in CA election laws suggested COLUMBIA


In light of an unresolved election controversy, a Columbia Council member proposed last night that the council seek to change Columbia Association's incorporation documents to "provide a more representative system of quasi-governance."

In her proposal labeled "Democracy in Columbia," council member Norma Rose of Wilde Lake village also suggested establishing a "charter review committee" to make recommendations to "achieve this now universally desired goal."

"I agree it's an admirable goal," said new council member Mike Rethman of Hickory Ridge village.

The council agreed to review the complicated and multilayered legal documents governing voting rights and amendment provisions in Columbia before proceeding with efforts to change the system.

In eight of Columbia's 10 villages, property owners are entitled to one vote in elections for each dwelling unit or vacant lot owned. Two other village associations amended their covenants soon after they were established to institute a one-vote-per-person policy.

A controversy over voting rights arose in Long Reach village when losing candidate Roy Lyons challenged the April 24 council election, claiming that individuals who cast single votes were "disenfranchised" by two apartment building owners who cast 276 votes between them -- one for each unit owned.

Amendments to village covenants require approval by 90 percent of property owners, which many say is nearly impossible to achieve.

Ms. Rose said her proposal is not aimed at amending village covenants, but at changing the composition of the council as outlined in CA documents.

For instance, documents could be amended to allow for at least some seats on the council to be elected at-large. Also, the council possibly could be elected separately from CA's board of directors.

Currently, one council member is elected from each village, regardless of the village's size. The 10-member council and CA President Padraic M. Kennedy act as board of directors.

The council sets policy and the budget for CA, a nonprofit corporation that charges property owners an annual fee to operate recreational facilities and community programs and maintain open space.

In other business, the council:

* Approved a county Police Department program that will allow youths from three Columbia housing developments and another in Guilford to swim for free at a CA pool for 1 1/2 hours per day one day per week. The crime and drug prevention program is intended to provide summer activities for elementary and middle school youths, such as field trips, arts demonstrations and group discussions about peer pressure.

The Police Department has run the program at Hilltop in Ellicott City and Guilford Gardens. This year, it plans to add Fall River Terrace/Waverly Winds in Harper's Choice village, Roslyn Rise/Rideout Heath in Wilde Lake village, Stevens Forest Apartments in Oakland Mills village and Whiskey Bottom in Laurel.

* Agreed to seek information on a proposal by several residents to open one CA pool after hours this summer for adult-only use on Friday and Saturday nights.

* Asked CA's open space manager to initiate procedures required to allow police to enter and make arrests on certain open space property in Hickory Ridge village, where late-night parties and destructive activities have been taking place. Currently, owners of the property must be present for police to act.

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