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Columbia elections set for weekend

The Baltimore Sun

Five of the seven Columbia Council seats to be filled in elections this weekend are being contested, with issues ranging from village revitalization and downtown development to the handling of contract negotiations with the association's president.

Incumbents are facing challengers in Dorsey's Search, Hickory Ridge, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake and two newcomers are vying in Kings Contrivance.

Running unopposed are incumbent Henry F. Dagenais in Long Reach and newcomer Michael Cornell in River Hill, where incumbent Patrick von Schlag is not seeking re-election.

The Columbia Council is the advisory board for the Columbia Association, which provides recreational services for Columbia's nearly 100,000 residents, manages more than 3,400 acres of open space and has an annual budget of about $50 million.

The council meets once a year, in May, when the elected representatives appoint themselves to the Columbia Association's board of directors. The 10-member board meets twice a month.

Not up for election this year are council seats in Harper's Choice, Owen Brown and Town Center.

In addition to the council races, Columbia's 10 village boards will hold elections this weekend.

Here is a look at the 10 Columbia Council candidates running in contested races:


Board Chairman Tom O'Connor, 55, is being challenged for his fourth term by Lester Straw, former director of parks for Montgomery County.

Straw, 70, said he would like to restore a "sense of civility and goodwill" to the board of directors. He said he wants the association to ask the county to take over some of its recreation programs to help cut costs.

Straw criticized O'Connor for comments made by board members during contract extension talks with Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown. The length of the extension evenly divided the board, with five members in favor of the three-year extension she wanted and the other five in favor of a one-year deal. The board offered her an extension last month, the details of which have not been released.

"That stuff should have not happened," Straw said. "If they were going to talk about her contract, then it all should have happened in a closed session."

O'Connor defended his actions as chairman and said the negotiations were carried on in a closed meeting. He said Brown's image was not tarnished by the board's actions.

"She is not losing any support in Columbia," O'Connor said. "When people read the newspapers about what happened with the bickering, more than anything else Maggie has not lost one bit of respect."

O'Connor said he would like to continue working to refine the board's committee process.

"As the chairman of the board, I am more of a traffic cop, and I have been able to be evenhanded and move the agenda along," he said.


Seven-year incumbent Miles Coffman, 57, a banker, is running against Marvin Lawson, 62, a pest-management consultant and retired Army officer.

Coffman said he is running for another term because he wants to continue working to restructure Columbia's governance and limit the association's debt.

"I am still working with the debt issue and to continue to reduce that debt so we can free up funds to do other things," Coffman said.

Lawson said he wants to survey residents of Columbia to see what issues are important to them. Lawson also said he would like to see the board strongly advocate for redevelopment of Town Center.

"I would like to see CA get involved in some plans for Symphony Woods to make it the equivalent of what Central Park is to New York," he said. "I would support adding public art and things like an ice skating rink."

Coffman said of downtown development: "I am not ready to take a position on that. We need more information about plans."


Jason Ridgell, an attorney and village board member, is running against Evan Coren, a federal government employee, for the seat held by Phil Marcus, the board's vice chairman, who is not seeking re-election.

Coren, 28, said he wants to be a voice for the community and wants to foster more transparency on the board by creating an online database to track how each member votes.

"This provides more clarity," Coren said. "Residents can see what policy decision the board has taken and how each member voted."

Ridgell, 36, said he wants to address the revitalization of Kings Contrivance Village Center. Merchants have said they have seen a large decline in customers since the Safeway supermarket closed last year. A Harris Teeter grocery store is planned for the Safeway site. Demolition has begun on the Safeway building.

"I want to keep the village center modern and vibrant," Ridgell said.

Ridgell said his two years on the Kings Contrivance Village Board have made him more aware of the community's issues.

Coren said the Columbia Council "is a different type of experience" that requires knowing about more than just one village.


Longtime incumbent Barbara L. Russell, 66, seeking her eighth term, is being challenged by Ian Kennedy, 29, more notably known as the president of the advocacy group Save Merriweather.

Kennedy said he is running to push for revitalization projects for Oakland Mills, a process he said Russell has not been doing well. This is the first election in six years that Russell faces a challenger.

Kennedy, who works at Enterprise Community Partners, which was founded by James W. Rouse to help distressed communities around the country, said his experience with the organization would be an asset in helping to revitalize Oakland Mills.

"I really enjoy serving the community, and it is something I do well," Kennedy said. "I am a good advocate, and I can build partnerships. And that is one of the key qualifications we need in our board members."

Russell, one of Columbia's first residents, said her experience and record of attention to residents' concerns makes her the more qualified candidate.

"I think [that] when anybody evaluates a candidate for office it is important to look at what they have done," Russell said. "I have seen years of solid action as a representative for Oakland Mills, and that speaks about what I am going to do in the future."

She added: "The reason people talk about [their] record is because it is an indicator of what they will do in the future, and I have a record of not only working hard for the revitalization but to represent the village as a member of the board."

Russell said she would continue to advocate for the needs of downtown development. Wilde Lake is one of three villages that surround Columbia's Town Center.

"CA has an important role in downtown Columbia," she said. "We have a headquarters building there, and that directly involves CA because it is in charge of the open space, and we will be instrumental in that space around in and around Town Center."


The candidates in last year's close Wilde Lake election - incumbent Philip W. Kirsch and William Santos - are in a rematch. Kirsch, 60, a retired computer specialist, defeated Santos, 40, a mechanical engineer, by 39 votes in 2006.

Both are former members of the Wilde Lake Village Board and are longtime residents.

"I think Phil is a good man, but his year on the CA board was one that was not best for a Wilde Lake representative," Santos said. "I've rarely seen Phil stand up on issues, and that was a concern of mine. I'm a little concerned that he has been a little quiet and that does not bode well for the village."

Kirsch defended his approach on issues, saying that he promised he would listen to residents rather than jump to quick conclusions.

"I believe in gathering a lot of information and talking to a lot of people and then making a decision," Kirsch said. "Bill is right, I am not the person who is out there in the leading the charge because I want to make sure I am going in the right direction."

Both candidates have said they want the best solutions for downtown development and to see Wilde Lake get another supermarket. The village center's Giant Food store closed in September and Kimco Realty Corp., the New York company that owns the village center, has said it is looking for another supermarket to replace it.

"Everybody is concerned about the grocery store," Santos said. The association "should play a greater role in this village center because there are many CA assets there, including the swim center and the tennis center."

Kirsch said he wants to focus on making the Columbia Association more efficient.

"I would like to see us get in and prioritize things and work on high-priority items rather than just coordinate things equally," he said. "The idea is not to speed things up, but to work on the more important things."

Columbia election facts

The Columbia Association will hold elections this weekend to select members to its board of directors and village boards. Here are candidates and polling places:

Dorsey's Search (410-730-4005)

Council candidates: Tom O'Connor* and Lester Straw

Village board candidates: Michael Hughes*

When/where: Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Linden Hall, 4765 Dorsey Hall Drive

Harper's Choice (410-730-0770)

Council candidates: no election

Village board candidates: Robert Bastian Jr., Juanita Robinson*, Evan M. Rose*, John David Smith, Evelyn Wilkins*, Philip Wright*

When/where: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; between the Columbia Bank and Safeway

Hickory Ridge (410-730-7327)

Council candidates: Miles Coffman* and Marvin Lawson

Village board candidates: Linda Hitzelberger*, Tom Louden*, Nancy McCord*, Gregg Schwind*, David Zeitzer*

When/where: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Hawthorn Center, 6175 Sunny Spring

Kings Contrivance (410-381-9600)

Council candidates: Evan Coren and Jason Ridgell

Village board candidates: Shaun Lane, Barbara N. Seely*, Shari Zaret*

When/where: Friday, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Amherst House, 7251 Eden Brook Drive

Long Reach (410-730-8113)

Council candidates: Henry F. Dagenais*

Village board candidates: Victor Bailey*, Nina Basu*

When/where: Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon; Long Reach Village Center, 8775 Cloudleap Court

Oakland Mills (410-730-4610)

Council candidates: Barbara L Russell* and Ian Kennedy

Village board candidates: William H. Lewis, W.H. Krizmanich*, Bill Woodcock*, Phillip Engelke*, Karen Gray*

When/where: Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; The Other Barn, 5851 Robert Oliver Place

Owen Brown (410-381-0202)

Council candidates: no election

Village board candidates: Ann Coren, Alan Romack*, Summer Romack*, Jeffrey Underwood

When/where: Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Owen Brown Place, 7080 Cradlerock Way; Friday, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Parkview, 7070 Cradlerock Way; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Owen Brown Village Center, 7170 Cradlerock Way

River Hill (410 531-1749)

Council candidates: Michael Cornell

Village board candidates: Barbara Wertman*, Frank Saletel*

When/where: Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Claret Hall, 6020 Daybreak Circle

Town Center (410 730-4744)

Council candidates: no election

Village board candidates: Steven Meskin, Lee Richardson*, Suzanne Waller*, David Wissing

When/where: Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Vantage Point Road Park; from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Vantage House (Vantage House residents only); from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Evergreens (Evergreens residents only)

Wilde Lake (410 730-3987)

Council candidates: Philip Kirsch* and William Santos

Village board candidates: Richard Madzel, Vincent L. Marando*, Linda Odum, Mary Pivar*, Rhoda Toback*

When/where: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Slayton House, 10451 Twin Rivers Road

*denotes incumbent

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