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Morrison re-elected council chairman


Columbia Council members reappointed Lanny Morrison last night to lead them through what they hope will be a smoother year of town politics.

The council voted 8-0, with two abstentions, to appoint the Harper's Choice resident chairman of the council.

No one else had sought the job, a volunteer position that Morrison said demands 20 to 30 hours per week. But Morrison, who presided over a troubled council last year, was not a shoo-in even without competition.

Council members considered postponing the vote until after a retreat next week, saying that would give them more time to get to know each other and to consider whether they'd like to throw their hats into the ring.

But council members decided not to delay - and, in a sense, not to hold Morrison responsible for the council's rocky recent past.

"You couldn't pay me to take the abuse that Lanny took last year and it started the first night," said Councilman Miles Coffman of Hickory Ridge.

The council also voted 6-4 to elect council newcomer Linda Odum of Long Reach vice chairwoman over Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills.

Council members made the selections at what was their first organizational meeting since last month's elections, which brought five new members to the 10-member panel.

The council determines policies and the budget for the Columbia Association, a homeowners association that provides recreational amenities and maintains strict housing standards for the community of 87,000.

The council chairman sets council agendas and presides over meetings, and the vice chairman fills in when the chairman is absent. Those limited procedural powers took on greater significance last year during a period of stormy council relations, when Morrison's council foes sometimes had to fight to get matters on the agenda.

Throughout the year, Morrison was accused of withholding information from other council members, a charge that he and several council allies call unfair.

Given all the turmoil, Councilman Ed Stern of River Hill asked Morrison if he thought his re-election as chairman would create a lot of controversy that would keep the council from moving forward.

"Will that have an effect on getting out of the gate?" Stern asked.

Morrison responded by saying that a lot of the last council's problems were inherited. When he took charge of the council last May, the council and the whole community were split over the performance of Deborah O. McCarty, the outgoing Columbia Association president. The search for McCarty's successor degenerated into name-calling, charges of racism and leaking to the press.

"I think it's very different this year," Morrison said. "The chair becomes the focal point. I think there's going to be some residue. The question is, how we, as a group, behave."

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