Start Time: 7:36 pm
End Time: 9:51 pm
We finished before 10:00 pm for the second straight meeting. I can't help but equate this feeling to watching the Orioles. I am hopeful, amazed, proud, but also cautiously waiting for the bottom to drop out. Shari Zaret did a great job as Board Chair, keeping agenda items as close to their designated time as possible. Other chairs did their best to do the same, acknowledging that overflow in one area may require curtailment of another. Said otherwise, the night was not treated like some ever-fortunate slot machine, pouring hours of value-less time into the Board room.
And yet again, similar to last meeting, the Board had some significant accomplishments to show for its time. I do not prize brevity over all else. We are there for a job and have important things to do. But, I also think is important for this Board to confront the paralysis of inaction that has been enabled by four hour meetings. Why should we ever pass anything when the discussion points are endless?
It appears as if the retired forces of opposition to Downtown Development have regrouped. We heard from three different business owners last night who, along with 25 other individuals, have formed the "Howard County Independent Business Association", which is focused on, among other things, creating an independent "Planning Board"-eqsue entity to enforce the private covenants (think HRD) that the HCIBA believes are no longer being enforced. Brian England, one of the leaders of this group, emphasized that when he decided to start an automotive repair shop in Columbia, he was required to do so away from the highway. He claims that new development will not have those restrictions. The material distributed by this group suggests that Snowden River Parkway will soon become "Snowden River Pike."
I don't see this kind of initiative as something CA should be getting involved with and prefer to see these concerns resolved between the Council, Executive, HHC, and the newly formed group. In 21st Century Columbia, CA is nothing more than the partnerships we are able to form. I appreciate their concerns, but CA is not positioned to be an advocacy organization, particularly in this context.
Aquatics Master Plan
Last night, the Board accepted and filed the Aquatics Master Plan. The vote was 5-4 with one abstention. Immediately after the vote, one of the dissenting Board members stormed out of the room. If you observed that this is the second meeting in a row what a Board member has left before adornment, you are paying attention.
There was a lot of confusion surrounding this vote that I believe played a big role in the frustration following passage. Those that voted to pass the Plan see it as a framework of recommendations from which future action will be prompted. For instance, the Plan recommends that Splashdown be evaluated for replacement with a new and improved waterpark. It then states, in somewhat ominous terms "Remove Splashdown." This is a long-term recommendation that I think appropriately acknowledges the limited utility of an aging amenity. It is not happening today or even next year, but when it does, a more "modern, family-friendly" water-park will be proposed based on additional community outreach and approval of the Board.
Moreover, this Plan met the goal that was most important to me, which was keeping all 23 pools open. There was some objection to the classification of neighborhood, community, and destination pools. Within the context of limited resources, that classification is necessary. The alternative is closing pools and redirecting resources. I hate to go all Bain Capital on you, but that is the practical issue at play here. Will each Board member be tasked with visiting the pools in their Village and ensuring quality services for Columbia residents? Absolutely. But we can't have 23 destination pools. We can't even have 23 regional pools. We need to be responsible with resident funds, while not taking anything away from what is currently provided.
This is one of those topics that is of great concern within CA, but of little to no relevance to anyone outside of the Village or CA Board. As I (hope I) have explained before, the allocation model is designed to distribute property assessment shares (i.e., the CA lien payment) amongst Villages to help run their facilities, enforce covenants, and improve community involvement. I really am not interested in going into the model itself, other than to note that Andy Stack has spent an admirable amount of time working on this very complex issue, and if CA had a Medal of Honor, it would go to him without contest.
To be completely frank with all of you, and with due respect and admiration for all of my Village Manager friends, there is a not-so-silent competition amongst Villages that often turns a bit ugly. The Allocation Model brings that competition to the fore. "Why should one Village get that much when we only get this much?" I understand that there are remaining issues with the current Model, but as stated repeatedly throughout this process, the current Model was based on information as submitted to CA by the Villages themselves.
Surprisingly, one of the members of the Ad Hoc Committee to reexamine the Allocation Model sought to stay implementation of the new plan pending further measurement of three facilities that felt unfairly evaluated under the current scheme. As a member of that Committee, I said I would be fine with that approach, so long as this was the only objection and, once addressed, the Model would be implemented as written. The Allocation Model passed through the External Relations Committee with that caveat and will be before the Board at the next meeting.
As you may be aware, Columbia participates in a sister cities program with similar communities across the Country. We have been invited to a meeting of our sister cities in Lancaster, England this September. The ERC wanted to consider sending a Board member to this conference and paying for their airfare. The Chair of the ERC, Cindy Coyle, suggested that we send fellow ERC member Suzanne Waller, who has been involved in the program for some time.
In an very informal discussion, I noted my own hesitation against paying for a Board member to go to England on CA's dime. We have far too many residents who are hearing about the limits of our resources to then turn to them and show pictures of a smiling Board member standing in front of Big Ben. Last night I had said I may be in favor of paying a half share, but even that would be a tough vote for me. No matter the amount, that money can and should be directed to things like our community grant project or additional resources for seniors. This is not a judgment on whomever wishes to represent CA, but I think we should encourage them to go without paying for the trip.
External Relations Committee
The ERC had been provided the lion-share of meeting time last night, but at the prompting of Ed Coleman decided to close out their meeting and go into an after-meeting work-session. I was happy to see them do this and hope they had a lot accomplished.
Unfortunately, it appears that the CA Board is breaking up into cliques. The Aquatics Master Plan was yet another nearly divided vote with a bare majority passing it through. I think we made the right decision and am happy that the Board did not punt the Plan for further discussion, but I am worried about the overall Board dynamic.
That's all for today. Have a great Friday doing what you love.