Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Litmus Test

Show of hands: how many of you live on Columbia assessed property?

Okay, how many of you vote in your village elections?

What do you mean, what village?

Yes, it's that time of year again. It's time to turn our attention to village elections and how we, as members of what may be the largest homeowners asociation ever, can best participate. Each village has a board, which deals with issues specific to their village community association, and each village elects a Columbia Association representative, who then represents the village on the Columbia Council. (Yes, I know it's a bit more complicated than that, but it's a start.)

The CA Board/Columbia Council votes on issues that affect members Columbia-wide, for instance, the creation of the Inner Arbor Trust, funding for remodeling of facilities, preservation of Open Space, and a whole lot more. Now, the work itself is performed by the Columbia Association. The Board is an advisory body meant to set broader themes rather than to micromanage each detail. Sometimes it is difficult to ascertain this, but that is the intent.

I'd like to turn your attention to two issues that are weighing heavily on my mind. One is serious, the other--not so much.

First, I'd like to establish the Villlage Green/Town Squared litmus test for running for both village board and the CA Board. It's quick and easy:

1. Do you like going to meetings?

2. Do you have unlimited time to attend meetings?

If you have answered "yes" to either one or both of those questions, you are automatically disqualified. That's right. We need to be brutally honest that the future of Columbia belongs to people who have busy and interesting lives and may not even see the point of traditional meetings as we know them. The longer our community remains wedded to old-school methods of community "engagement", the less likely that newer and younger residents will "engage". And that, my friends, is death to our Columbia Ideal. You need to have people to have a People Tree.

Okay, now to get a bit more serious. There has been an idea circulating for awhile that would radically change Columbia Association governance. I noticed it on the Oakland Mills Village Board Meeting agenda for this week. Bill Woodcock mentions it in his post "Hey, What's the Big Ideas?" on The 53. He says,

And this year, some Columbia Council candidates and others will tell you that the Big Idea going on in Columbia is to make every lien holder in Columbia a member of the Columbia Association. So if you pay a fee to Columbia Association for your home or business to exist on CA-assessed property, you would become a member of CA. As opposed to what happens now, where the ten members of the Columbia Council, who also sit as the CA Board, sit as the members of the Columbia Association.

Some will say this will give everyone a say in Columbia affairs. And that same some, will be very, very wrong. Making every lien holder a CA member will make doing anything in Columbia very complicated. Which is kind of what those who support this change wants. So this is not a Big Idea. It is a Very Small Idea.

There's plenty to say about this issue, but the one I want to stress today is that this change would give votes to businesses, and take them away from renters. Now, each village has its own election rules concerning renters (and maybe they should be consistent Columbia-wide?) so I may not be able to make a blanket statement on this. But, considering the all-inclusive, welcoming premise of Columbia's very existence, any change that gives votes to businesses while, at the same time, disenfranchising humans is A Very Bad Plan.

It would also encourage micromanaging of the very worst sort. And only those who love meetings, and have unlimited time to attend them, stand to gain anything from this. What would they gain? Control. The power to say no: no change, no forward movement, no deviation from the past.

So, if you don't particularly like meetings, and you don't have unlimited time to attend them, I wholeheartedly encourage you to run for your village board or Columbia Council Representative. You're exactly the kind of person I want representing me, and you could change how Columbia does business--for the better.



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