Friday, April 25, 2014

Columbia Votes

Dear Columbia resident,
Last year, we took one on the chin.  You probably came out to vote, but your neighbor didn't.  Your daughter's best-friend's mom didn't.  Your co-worker didn't.   And because they didn't, because our side scoffed at the insignificance of a democratically elected nonprofit board of a $62 million recreation and parks organization, our friends lost.  And it hurt.

But we've had a year to think about that and are not much worse for wear.  Antagonism works in the bleachers, but it is a poor means of governance.  I'm not much for the "us v. them" dichotomy, but I do believe there are two very different plans for Columbia and the Columbia Association - one wishes to have CA run by some contrived form of populism, effectively putting a handful of people in charge under the auspices of "democracy"; the other looks to empower the organization and the professionals it employs to govern conservatively with an eye towards the future.

Populism is another ideal best served in the bleachers.

I love Columbia and all of you who live there.  I love living on the hinge where Ellicott City and Columbia meet.  I am not optimistic about CA elections.  There are too many people who will flop into their couch on Saturday around 5 pm to watch Jake and the Neverland Pirates with their kids only to smack their knee and say "Gah, today was the election."  They will presume everyone else voted appropriately, but be disappointed in themselves for forgetting.  With such low turnout, if this happens for 10 or more people in a given Village, we lose.

And really, we all lose.  Even those who have a different vision for CA.  Because the goal should be to have as many people vote as possible; to have as many people heard as possible.  But our voting system doesn't promote that ideal.  Renters are often intimidated out of trying to vote ("Please bring one piece of mail proving you are not a spotter.").  Young families will likely be spending their days in the fields watching baseball or lacrosse...or the litany of other things that come with having little people to provide for and entertain.  The most simple and effective means for expanding the vote is to do it via secure electronic means over the internet, but that would probably be a step too far for the populists.  Even they understand that populism doesn't work when everyone participates.

So in that cast of pessimism, I humbly submit my recommendations for your vote.  But first, for the uninitiated, you can find out what Village you live in via this link.  Most Villages have open voting at the Village Center (along with fun activities for the kids), between 9 am and 3 pm.  And here's how I would vote:

Hickory Ridge - Harry Schwarz

You would be hard-pressed to find a smarter, more compassionate, kind, and dedicated community leader than Harry Schwarz.  I will always remember walking out of an Inner Arbor Town Hall and seeing Harry on the couch in the lobby engaged with Alan Klein over the merits of the plan.  Those for and against the plan had spent so much time talking past one another that I almost found myself in awe of what appeared to be a genuine conversation over what these plans entailed.  I've had the chance to speak more with Harry over the past year and a half and could not recommend him highly enough for service on the CA Board.

Harper's Choice - Bob Fontaine

Full disclosure - I do not know Bob.  He's been recommended to me by many people who I trust.  I also know that after coming up short in his last bid for the CA Board, he didn't sulk in the background, but rather took a seat on the Harper's Choice Board.  A true leader doesn't wait for election season to decide they want to be involved.

Town Center - Suzanne Waller

I make this recommendation after serving for two and a half years with Suzanne on the Board.  We disagreed on a number of things and found ourselves on the opposite sides of a least a dozen votes.  But that's what I like about her.  We would bump heads for twenty minutes and then joke about it ten minutes later.  Suzanne cared the most that all sides were heard on any given issue.  She frustrated me with her inclination to continue debate and extend the process before a vote, but in that way she counter-balanced my own flaws in seeking an outcome.

In sum - Schwarz, Fontaine, Waller.  But before I close, I want to note something - if I'm not mistaken, every person I've recommended is a grandparent (Note: I was mistaken.  Harry Schwarz is not a grandparent!).  That takes nothing away from my confidence or support in their efforts to serve the community, but I continue to be disappointed that more young leaders aren't taking up this responsibility.  The crowded field in Delegate District 12 tells me that there is no want for younger people interested in their community, but CA continues to be dismissed as an undesirable place to spend one's time and energy.  We can all do more to encourage people to serve in this capacity and I can tell you from my own personal experience that we are doing the opposite.  You can't complain about the sorry state of CA Board governance if you are also going to make a joke out of the service it entails.

So, Columbia resident, do we have your attention?

Your Friend,