Tough questions in Columbia; Howard: Should the city pursue a new form of government before it hires a government leader?


AFTER MONTHS of embarrassing turmoil, Columbians may now engage in a period of creative statecraft.

The task could be easy or onerous -- the heavy lifting of incorporation or a few minor adjustments, bylaw changes and the like.

Ideally, the city would have a leader in place to guide this process and then to assume control of it.

But the Columbia Association's former president, Deborah O. McCarty, departed recently in a cloud of controversy.

The newly elected Columbia Council must therefore assume leadership in this endeavor. It must decide whether the city needs an interim president -- and it should decide in the affirmative. One of the association's vice presidents is now doubling as interim president -- not a good solution.

The council should also form a panel to quickly explore the forms of governance which have evolved in other planned communities, and not re-invent the wheel unless absolutely necessary.

Serious attention should be paid to the pluses and minuses of incorporation as well. A two-party political system with mayor and council should be examined. A relatively uninvolved citizenry could let the two parties take care of accountability.

Even if it's true that Columbians want nothing more than well-run swimming pools and well-cropped grass, its government should actually be a government, not some hybrid of a homeowners' association and a camp council.

A city founded on progressive ideals should not be content with anything less than truly representative government.

The council and other concerned citizens are sorting thoughtfully through various approaches to change.

A series of public discussions on these questions will continue tomorrow night at The Other Barn in Oakland Mills. Various points of view about Columbia's future are to be discussed. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m.

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