Charles Rees and the Lost Revolution


When Charles Rees two years ago injected his healthy dose of skepticism into the proceedings of the body that oversees recreational facilities in Columbia, it was thought that he was ushering in an era of revolution. Now, one must wonder if that revolution has been lost, like any non-Columbian trying to navigate his way around the planned city.

Mr. Rees is resigning from the council, along with its president, Evelyn Richardson. Meanwhile, candidates who might have played a Rees-like contrarian role in Columbia affairs lost in this weekend's elections.

Few residents turned out to vote, forcing some villages to resort to corporate "bloc votes" to meet the quorum that requires ballots from 10 percent of residents. Moreover, the only two people who ran on platforms to change Columbia's set-up were defeated by status-quo candidates who praised the Columbia Association and its service delivery.

The message of the weekend elections could be read in opposite ways: On one hand, residents seemed reluctant to embrace the radical notion of incorporating into Maryland's second largest city. On the other hand, the dismal turnout lent credence to those who argue that the current homeowner association-on-steroids system discourages civic participation.

It didn't help matters that the elections were held at the end of the school system's week-long spring break when many residents were vacationing. The elections need more thoughtful scheduling and promotion next time.

Part of what made this year's election so critical and, in some ways, a failed opportunity is that it marked the departure of Mr. Rees. He was a refreshing voice of dissent on a board too often content to dance to the tune of the Columbia Association staff. Mr. Rees' opposition to costly new projects, while not always warranted, at least showed a determination to be frugal in the use of residents' dollars. The University of Baltimore law professor was tireless in his insistence that the Columbia system deprived residents of representation and needed an overhaul.

In the end, he said he was stepping down because of a lack of support from colleagues and the community. Certainly, those who predicted a tide of change sweeping Jim Rouse's planned city must be revising their forecasts now.

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