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CA policy now clear on conflicts of...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

CA policy now clear on conflicts of interest

Conflict of interest questions arose during the Columbia Association's Fiscal Year 2002 (that ended April 30) for three other Columbia Council/CA Board of Directors members besides Barbara Russell. When CA was considering the issuance of a new series of senior secured bonds, Miles Coffman asserted to his Council/Board colleagues that his then-employer might have an interest in these bonds.

On the two occasions the matter arose at meetings, not only did Mr. Coffman not participate in the discussions but he actually got up and physically left the meetings. He also did not vote on the matter.

Ed Stem raised a question whether a potential business opportunity for his company (not having to do with CA) might pose a conflict of interest. He was advised that there would be no conflict under the provisions of the Council/Board's Conflict of Interest Policy.

I was the other one who had a conflict of interest issue. My adult daughter informed me that she had applied for and was in the process of being hired for a part-time, temporary position with CA. I immediately brought this to the attention of CA's president, Maggie Brown, who referred it to CA's General Counsel. General Counsel was of the opinion that this would be a violation of the Policy, so the hiring process ceased.

A question of Ms. Russell's having a possible conflict of interest because of her employment with Howard County arose during the consideration of CA's Fiscal Year 2003 Budget on February 21, 2002. In the two years I was on the Council/Board with Ms. Russell, there were two instances when she requested that it be made known that she would not be participating because of her employment with Howard County.

These instances included Howard County Council redistricting and County Bill 48-2000 (having to do with minimum, basic exterior property standards). In each instance, I dutifully noted in communications on behalf of the Council with the County that she did not participate in the matter.

In other instances, however, Ms. Russell did not make similar requests. For example, she participated in discussions and voted to approve CA participation in a Loan Guarantee Program requested by then County Council Chairperson Mary Lorsung. She also participated in and voted for CA to enter into a multi-party arrangement that included Howard County to establish a Volunteer Center Serving Howard County. In addition, she participated in discussions and commented on communications to be sent to the County Council on the Howard County General Plan.

Both CA's general counsel and outside counsel were of the opinion that the policy applied to all Board/Council members, irrespective of the entity with whom they may be employed. Nonetheless, partly because of Ms. Russell's insistence that the policy did not apply to her, both CA's general counsel and outside counsel suggested that the then-policy might benefit by amending the document to make this explicit. Therefore, the clarification in the policy approved by the Board on April 25, 2002 did this.

Some individuals have suggested that the change in policy will have a "chilling effect" by keeping government employees from being on the Council/Board. Some have also suggested that this somehow disadvantages the Village of Oakland Mills, which Ms. Russell represents, and is tantamount to "taxation without representation."

These statements are simply incorrect. Section 7 of the policy, which has been in effect since April 28, 1994, provides that if a member "is not permitted to participate in or vote on a matter under this policy because of a conflict or the appearance of a conflict of interest, the Board of the Village represented by the Council Representative shall be invited to submit written comments and/or make a presentation to the Council/Board regarding the matter."

Consequently, the Policy provides a clear process for ensuring that a village is not deprived of a voice on any issue as to which its representative has a conflict.

Lanny J. Morrison

Columbia(The writer represented Harper's Choice on the Columbia Council.)

Homeowners lose under new CA policy

The revised Conflict of Interest policy sets the stage for breaking the agreement made between the Columbia Association (CA) and its homeowners. Setting policy that denies homeowners rights to representation either directly or indirectly is at minimum a breach of faith, if not a breach of their agreement. Council/Board members need to remember that their primary allegiance is to the homeowners that elected them prior to establishing or changing corporate policies.

To suggest that the mere association of a member with an organization puts them in a conflict of interest is absurd.

Policy needs to be specific enough to establish the need for additional evidence that can prove a board member's personal profit before actions are taken to suppress that member's right to vote or be heard. The suggestion that a representative cannot even enter in the discussion makes it sound like CA board members are lambs when in fact they are quite the opposite.

Do they need a policy to protect them from hearing debate? A board member deciding to forgo their right to vote because of a conflict of interest is understandable but removing themselves from the debate somehow seems unnecessary.

Part of the Strategic Plan calls for the board to review the services it provides and transfer the responsibility to those services to the County where appropriate. Oakland Mills homeowners should be represented in these discussions but current policy would make that a conflict of interest. I ask that member of this community including CA board members join me in calling for the rescinding of this policy change in order to safeguard the rights of these homeowners to proper representation.

This policy (in its current form) only serves to deny the rights of the homeowners to representation. Trying to prove a case of conflict of interest based on simple association without further proof could also prove disastrous to the corporation in a court of law.

Steven Pine

Columbia(The writer is a former member of the Columbia Council from Kings Contrivance.)

Real estate agents shouldn't complain

I read with interest your article of May 5, 2002 titled "Agents' fees start to fall in Howard." I believe Realtors better realize that if they are not careful, they will soon be right there with Travel Agents - barely breathing, but not dead.

I read Mr. Northrop's comments and I can only say, "Boo-hoo-hoo." Does Mr. Northrop realize that a 6 percent commission on a $400,000 home is $24,000? Does Mr. Northrop realize that the amount of time most listings in Howard County (for example in the 21737/8 zip codes) remain on the market is 10 days? Give me a piece of that action at 4 percent and I'll make money!! The problem is Realtors like Mr. Northrup have created massive organizations of their own that require large amounts of overhead to survive.

Howard County Realtors should go to parts of Iowa or Illinois where median home prices are $80,000 and the average time on the market is four to six months.

Realtors there are hungry and they work hard to get the business. Do Howard County Realtors think everything is handed to them on a silver platter? They should truly learn the Law of Supply and Demand as it applies to their services.

Tony Tvarkunas

Glenwood

Short-sighted leaders oppose MAGLEV train

The recent opposition by Howard County politicians to development of the experimental "MAGLEV" high-speed train between Baltimore and Washington is not surprising. These representatives become very provincial when asked to support a regional interest.

In 2001, the County Council and County Executive were uninterested in how excessive mixed-use development in southern Howard County would affect roads like Route 29 and Route 95 in Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties.

Now we have the possibility of mitigating that harm by participating in the federally-supported development of high speed, energy-efficient rail transportation. MAGLEV would decrease auto traffic and associated air pollution in the short run while promoting the eventual development of high-speed train travel between Washington, Baltimore, New York and Boston. Such trains would be a boon to this area as energy-inefficient air travel has become such a hassle. Already, Amtrak's Acela Express is heavily booked and is taking significant market share from the airlines.

Five-car MAGLEV trains have been clocked at over 330 miles per hour and are "whisper quiet" because they are supported above ground by a magnetic field. While we may quibble about where the tracks should be put down, completely opposing this promising, exciting development to appease local construction interests is extremely shortsighted.

Harry Brodie

Fulton

(The writer is former president of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association.)

News story revealed writer's prejudices

I would like to comment on the April 24 article, "River Hill takes a look at promise unfulfilled." Being a River Hill High School student, I believe that my opinion should be given a great deal of consideration.

Why in your article did you refer to African Americans as African Americans, but Caucasians as white people? As a journalist you should be objective.

Discrimination is a two-way street and has been for quite sometime. An example is the Black Student Achievement Program. Would you disagree that it should be named the Student Achievement Program? By segregating the students in that manner, we are further causing racial issues.

I understand that there has been discrimination toward the African American race in the past, even at River Hill High School. Although, could it not be the fact that adolescents are cruel to one another and if they can not find something to pick on another student about, they will pick something like religion or race? Cruelty toward anyone in any manner should be punished severely.

Sept. 11 taught us that we can forget our prejudices and petty differences. It taught us that race is not an issue, life is. How could that have blown out the window in less than a year? Will it take hundreds of thousands more to die an unthinkable death before we realize how moronic we are acting.

Mara Brinegar

Ellicott City

CA board/council loses its direction

When Robert Burns wrote "O Wad Some Power Giftie Gie us To See Ourselves as Others See Us ... " he certainly was not thinking of the Columbia Association/Council, but of others - those whose righteousness appears in their words but not in their actions. Columbia is now governed, not by democracy, but by perception.

First we had the "civility" campaign when the would-be elite assured the public that the enforcement of civility at the organization's meetings would make everything work out and there would be no more discussion of the failed Key property gambit, the abortive lien rate rise and the failed objective search for a president.

We continued to have public meetings with no real dialogue, citizen committees which are either stacked or ignored and consultants hired at public cost to arrive at pre-determined conclusions.

Then the last Council passed the "Values and Administrative Procedures" aimed at masking the perception of dissent, if not the dissent itself. Now, as a farewell gift, the departing chairman and his me-too's on the Council have produced the "Loyalty Oath," shades of Senator McCarthy!

The Council majority still maintain the fiction that they have different and sometimes conflicting responsibilities as members of the Board of Directors and as CA Council members, this, even though the Charter and Covenants state that the organization: "... shall be organized and operated exclusively for the promotion of the common good and social welfare of the people of the community of Columbia and its environs. ..."

That they are confused by their so-called separate functions and goals was evident at the last meeting of this year's Board when they voted to change the ethics policy, not of the Board, but of the Council. The separation of roles apparently depends on the convenience of the majority.

Is the "Loyalty Oath" designed to preserve the Columbia we all aspire to: one committed to fair and primary attention to the needs and desires of its diverse residents? It looks to many as if the loyalty demanded is to the bottom line, assuring ever increasing salaries and bonuses for the senior staff despite the evidence of incompetence in money-losing project after project and our massive debt.

Henry D. Shapiro

Wilde Lake

Water submetering technology exists

Your article "Water bills irritate tenants" (May 3) contained an important error to which your readers should be alerted. In the final paragraph, Scott Southron, of National Water and Power, a water submetering and RUBs company, was paraphrased as saying that not all buildings can be submetered.

This is not true. He refers to buildings whose apartments share water lines and would require submeters at each point-of-use (i.e., about half of the nation's apartments). Our company, Wellspring Wireless Utility Services, offers just such technology, with tens of thousands of meters installed to date.

Jerome Peacock

San Diego, Calif.

(The writer is director of corporate communications for Wellspring International.)

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