Incorporation, McCarty the focus in Town Center; Three at forum vying for Columbia Council seat Merke is leaving; Columbia


Three candidates for the Town Center Columbia Council seat faced off last night, sharing their views on such issues as whether the planned community should incorporate as a city to whether embattled Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty should resign.

Council Chairman Joseph Merke is not running for re-election. The Town Center council seat is open, and the three candidates vying for the seat -- Dennis Lane, Donna Rice and Suzanne Waller -- seemed to have more in common than not.

Responding to written questions from an audience made up largely of senior citizens at the Vantage House retirement community, all three said they oppose the elimination of the 10 villages as part of Columbia's governance structure.

All three said they would not support the incorporation of developer James W. Rouse's planned community as a city.

And, to varying degrees, all three criticized McCarty, identifying strong leadership as one of the most important qualities a Columbia Association president should have.

Waller, a former Columbia Council representative and village board chairwoman, said that if elected she would recommend a 30-day "fact-finding mission" to make sense of the recent controversy about McCarty's tenure.

Waller said, "We don't know who she is, we don't know what she stands for and we don't know what she cares about."

Lane, a commercial real estate broker who writes a column for Business Monthly, stressed that the association should serve not as a government but a parks and recreation association. Its top priority, he said, should be to enhance its more than 3,000 acres of open space.

Village structure

Lane, who opposes incorporation, supported maintaining the village structure.

" 'All politics is local,' " he said, quoting former U.S. House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. "It doesn't get any more local than the village boards."

Rice stressed her experience in office during 12 years on the Town Center Village Board, seven as chairwoman. She said she would like to see "more community presence" for Town Center, a patchwork of noncontiguous neighborhoods made up mainly of townhouses.

More businesses sought

Without additional businesses, cultural amenities and a "more vibrant" downtown, she said, Town Center won't be able to attract younger residents to sustain itself. Rice said some people believe a council representative's allegiance should be to the Columbia Association; others think it should be to the village residents who elected them.

"I don't see why we can't do both," she said.


Four other villages -- Harper's Choice, Hickory Ridge, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake -- are holding elections Friday and Saturday. Positions on the council, which serves concurrently as the Columbia Association board of directors, are unpaid. The Town Center term is for two years; some village representatives serve for one.

Waller, who called herself a "consensus builder," said the Columbia Association requires 24-hour-a-day management and attention. She said she believes that a decision on McCarty's performance should be made according to "due process" but that the community has experienced "disruption" since her arrival in August of 1998.

Howard's 'crown jewel'

Lane called Columbia the "crown jewel" of Howard County, and urged the association to lobby the county "proactively" for funds and support.

On the issue of whether to keep the financially troubled Columbia Horse Center in operation, all three candidates said they were willing to close it.

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