Candidates draw small audience


Few residents attended a candidates forum at the Oakland Mills village center last night, although this year's village elections promise to be strongly contested.

Candidates and election officials outnumbered the audience at the Other Barn in the village center, despite a clear disagreement between the village's two Columbia Council candidates on the way the unincorporated city ought to be governed.

Columbia Council challenger Barry Mehta favors incorporating the planned community. He advocates hiring the president of the nonprofit Columbia Association, Padraic Kennedy, as the city's first manager. The city would take over development regulation from the county government, but not other county functions such as law enforcement and public works.

Incumbent Councilman Gary B. Glisan disagreed strongly.

"I have yet to see any arguments that say why we would do it," he said, adding that Columbia residents are happy with the current system of governance.

Some residents said the forum's low turnout supported Mr. Glisan's observation.

"It may indicate satisfaction; it may indicate contentment," said Frances Na--, a former village board chairwoman and resident of the village's Thunder Hill neighborhood.

Phyllis Field, another Thunder Hill resident, agreed. "They'd be up here in a minute if there were anything upsetting them," she said.

Columbia receives most of its services from the county. The Columbia Association, which is like a giant homeowner association, tends to the community's parkland and runs recreational, community service and social facilities and functions.

Like other incorporation advocates, Mr. Mehta touts the advantage of making tax-deductible the annual charge on properties that the association collects.

But Mr. Glisan said any such advantage would be a "drop in the bucket" compared with the additional costs that a bureaucracy would incur.

"We may be able to write it off, but we're going to be paying more for it," he said.

Mr. Glisan also said he would like to see the amount of effort used to promote incorporation redirected toward curbing crime in Columbia. He said his own home had been broken into three times within 10 days, and he worries about his early-morning trips to the automated teller machine in the village center.

Mr. Mehta's wife, Charu Mehta, noted that her former office in Owen Brown had been broken into, and she, too, would like to feel more safe coming and going to her new office in the Oakland Mills center. Ms. Mehta and Mary Owens are vying to unseat two of the five incumbent board members.

But incumbent board member Janet Ruck Pastor said that the crime problem in Oakland Mills was not as bad as many residents believe.

"Oakland Mills has gotten a bad rap from the media," she said, which tends to ignore the "good things" in the community such as police outreach programs and efforts to strengthen residents' involvement in their community.

Board incumbent David A. Hatch urged the few voters present to re-elect him and the other incumbents, including Ms. Pastor, Eric H. Bauman, Peter J. Rulison, and Keith Speidel.

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