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CA panel to have a new look

The Baltimore Sun

The Columbia Association board of directors will have at least two new members after next month's elections.

Board members Phil Marcus of Kings Contrivance and Patrick von Schlag of River Hill recently announced they will not seek another term on the 10-member policymaking body of the homeowners association, which provides recreational amenities and manages open space for the about 100,000 residents.

Elections are scheduled for April 21.

The decisions of Marcus and Von Schlag not to seek re-election come in the midst of what has been a contentious few months for the board as it decides whether to give President Maggie J. Brown the three-year contract extension she has requested. Brown's current three-year contract expires April 30.

The board is evenly divided on whether to give Brown what she wants or a one-year deal that would allow time to conduct a nationwide search for a new president.

Marcus, one of the most outspoken board members opposing giving Brown a three-year contract, denies the issue was a deciding factor in his choice not to seek re-election. An attorney, Marcus said dealing with board issues and attending committee meetings was taking too much of his time.

Von Schlag said he wants to devote more time to his family and full-time job as a technology consultant.

"It takes a tremendous amount of time for the position," Von Schlag said. "It's the issue that the board takes a long time to do things. The functions take about five times as much as it should, and that restricts the pool of people to do the job."

He added: "We have a tendency to spin our wheels a lot, and at times we are more like a debating club than a board, and we forget what we are there for."

Alex Hekimian, president of the Alliance for a Better Columbia, a watchdog group, said clashing board members is nothing new and is caused by misinterpretation of the panel's role.

"The board has been divided and tense for awhile. And there is a lot more differences of opinion and some hostility than you would think in a body like that," he said. "This all comes from directors having a difference of values. ... The question is, is the board supposed to be looking for the interest of the residents or the corporation?"

Seven seats on the board are up for re-election. Henry F. Dagenais of Long Reach, Philip Kirsch of Wilde Lake and Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills will seek another term. Undecided are Miles Coffman of Hickory Ridge and the chairman, Tom O'Connor of Dorsey's Search.

Marcus said he believes that the controversy over Brown's contract "will become a big political issue" and that "four or five of those open seats will really be contested."

Pearl Atkinson-Stewart of Owen Brown, Gail Broida of Town Center and Cynthia Coyle of Harper's Choice are in the middle of a two-year term.

Responding to the decision by Von Schlag and Marcus not to run, O'Connor said: "I understand both their positions. Patrick is very frustrated, and we had conversations about the effect on the job; and I also know what Phil is saying."

Von Schlag was elected to the board in 2005. Marcus has served two, two-year terms.

While Coffman has voiced frustration in recent months about the board's handling of Brown's contract, he still feels he can make a difference in areas such as finance and governance structure.

"We're not quite through the new governance structure," he said. Coffman has been a key advocate of the structure and said he would like to continue to work with such issues.

The application deadline to run for office is different in each village. Coffman has until Saturday to make a decision whether he will seek his eighth one-year term.

Von Schlag said he hopes the new members can moved the board forward.

"It's about the board working as a whole group and not a group of five and mixes," he said. "When you pull all of [the members] together, you have a function, and the job is to provide meaningful oversight and give input."

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