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2 council candidates differ on whether Columbia is well-run


Columbia Council candidate Lewis Lorton wants to unravel some mysteries: Exactly who does pull the strings in Columbia? And do Columbia residents truly know if they get their money's worth from the Columbia Association?

Mr. Lorton said at a candidate forum last night that many residents -- including himself -- are largely in the dark and that those running the private, nonprofit association are at least partly responsible for keeping it that way.

"So much of what you do on the council is not known to everybody. The council doesn't know a lot of what goes on," he told a sparse audience at Amherst House in Kings Contrivance village. "It's very difficult to know what's going on in Columbia. It's very difficult to know if [the association] is well-run and cost-effective."

But Mr. Lorton's opponent for the Kings Contrivance village seat on the council, fellow village board member George Pangburn, said he doesn't share that skepticism. Residents are satisfied, he said.

The only shortcoming may be that the council -- the Columbia Association's board of directors -- works in a vacuum because residents' participation is minimal, he said.

While campaigning, Mr. Pangburn said, "I didn't see dissatisfaction with the council and Columbia Association that Lew alludes to. If anything, the view I heard about the council and the association is that the glass is half full, not half empty.

"People are really satisfied with living in Columbia and with the type of government we have here."

The Kings Contrivance race is one of two contested elections for the 10-member council, which sets policy and the budget for the association. Six other council elections are uncontested, with five incumbents set to retain their seats. The election for council and village boards begins tomorrow in some villages and continues Saturday in all 10 villages.

The Columbia Association, essentially a huge, multifaceted homeowner organization, imposes an annual levy on Columbia property owners to help pay for recreational facilities, community programs and parkland maintenance. The association, which has a $33 million operating budget and a $5 million capital budget, also raises revenue through recreational membership fees.

Mr. Lorton said it would be his mission to ensure that the association is more open, responds to residents' desires, and spends their money wisely. The most telling fact about how the association is run, he said, is the council's admission this year that it lacked information to make specific budget cuts.

"If it takes being aggressive, I'll do that," Mr. Lorton said. "I'll be the designated terrier to make them change their ways."

He also urged residents to become more involved so that they have more ability to control Columbia's destiny.

"Then they'll be less inclined to sit back and live in paradise," Mr. Lorton said. "I don't mind living in paradise. I just don't want to pay 30 percent more for it."

Mr. Pangburn said the association should continue focusing on reducing the deficit that accumulated in its early years and maintaining existing facilities.

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