2 new panel members say they'll 'listen'

The Baltimore Sun

When they take their seats on the Columbia Association board of directors next month, Michael Cornell of River Hill wants to look at environmental issues and Evan Coren of Kings Contrivance is eager to start an electronic database to track how board members vote.

The two men will be the fresh faces on a council that saw five incumbents retain their seats in elections Saturday. The remaining three board members were not up for election.

The Columbia Council functions as the board of directors for the Columbia Association, which provides recreational services, manages more than 3,400 acres of open space and offers other amenities for the community's nearly 100,000 residents.

"I'll be doing a lot of listening," said Cornell, who will serve a two-year term. He ran unopposed to replace board member Patrick von Schlag.

As a business marketing consultant for an Owings Mills firm, Cornell, 48, said he plans to bring his experience with group dynamics and conflict resolution to the Columbia board.

"Beating up on people is not the way I work," he said, adding, "It's not that I'm not passionate."

Cornell, a former co-chair of the Maryland Green Party, said he wants to look for ways Columbia can be more energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive.

Coren, 28, is a federal employee who defeated Jason Ridgell to replace current Vice Chairman Phil Marcus.

Coren said he will fulfill a campaign promise Sunday by holding his first monthly listening session at the Bagel Bin in Kings Contrivance Village Center from 10 a.m. to noon. He said residents can drop in and talk about their concerns.

Coren said voters seemed to like his idea for a searchable database of board votes, intended to improve communication and accountability.

He also said he was aided by his history of asking tough questions about redevelopment in Columbia's downtown area.

"CA is the second-largest landowner downtown," he said. The board can "make sure resident's voices are heard in the planning process."

Barbara L. Russell, an Oakland Mills incumbent who defeated Ian Kennedy to earn an eighth term on the board, said downtown development was a major campaign issue in many races.

"It's clear that those of us that supported a reasonable amount of development, not the development that the developers and the county have supported in the past, are the candidates that won."

She said in the next session, she plans to focus on housing issues, including affordability, in Columbia and throughout the county.

Philip Kirsch, who defeated William Santos for another term representing Wilde Lake, and Miles Coffman, who won re-election over Marvin Lawson in Hickory Ridge, both mentioned downtown redevelopment as an important issue for voters, as well.

Moving forward, Kirsch said he was interested in examining the Columbia Association's efficiency to give lien payers more value for their money and examining the capital expenditures on building and repair projects. Coff- man said he would like to continue to lower the assessment cap.

For most of the candidates, "incumbency worked," said Tom O'Connor, the current board chairman and Dorsey's Search representative who won re-election over Lester Straw.

"The majority thinks were doing a good job," he said. "We may be a little ugly in the way we do it, but that's a symptom of the transparency [that the board provides].

Henry Dagenais, who ran unopposed to continue representing Long Reach, agreed that people seemed generally happy with the board's performance.

"You get a large turnout when people are unhappy with something," he said.

All 10 Columbia villages held elections for their village boards Saturday.

Town Center and Owen Brown each had four candidates vying for three seats. Town Center elected its top three vote-getters. But in Owen Brown, the 259 voters fell short of the 351 required for a quorum. The two board members who were not up for election will now appoint three new members to join them.

In Hickory Ridge, Kings Contrivance, Long Reach, Oakland Mills, River Hill and Wilde Lake, the number of candidates matched the number of open seats.

Dorsey's Search and Harper's Choice had fewer candidates than open seats this year. Each village board plans to appoint one member to join those who were elected or in the middle of their terms.


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