Dorsey's Search: Columbia Council Candidates Q&A
The following are responses from the Dorsey's Search candidates for Columbia Council / CA Board of Directors. Information on the Dorsey Search election and voting is available here.
1. Please tell me a bit about yourself and what you hope to bring to the Columbia Council.
For the past six years, it has been a privilege to serve on the CA Board for Dorsey’s Search. It’s a lot of work, but the work is very rewarding. During my time on the Board, I have successfully fought to:
· Reopen the Dorsey Hall and Running Brook swimming pools.
· Prevent increases in the Annual Charge.
· Preserve the Fairway Hills golf course.
· Build and refurbish our tot lots.
· Protect CA open space from encroachment.
· Promote a new, practical and affordable plan for Symphony Woods.
· Enhance CA/Village relationships.
I’m a long-term resident of the Dorsey’s Choice neighborhood who cares deeply about our community. My wife, Dorothy, and I have raised two boys, Matt and Charlie, who have greatly enjoyed the benefits of a Howard County education (Both are Wilde Lake High School grads) and the advantages of growing up in this wonderful, diverse community. We need to preserve and protect Columbia’s excellence for current and future residents.
As a retired business executive, I am able to devote the many hours needed to handle the demands of public service. I don’t see this as a steppingstone to higher office, and I don’t answer to special interests. I’m simply a good neighbor committed to employing sound business practices to serve our residents and enhance our community.
I currently serve as vice chair of CA’s Audit Committee and as Board liaison to the Sports and Fitness Advisory Committee. If reelected, I plan to continue with those responsibilities.
My name is Marlon Brown, I’m a Federal employee and a Maryland native. I grew up on the West side of Baltimore. I was fortunate enough to travel the world during my service in the Marine Corps but I chose to make my home here in Maryland and specifically in Columbia, Maryland. I relocated from Mt. Airy, Maryland about 4 years ago because I wanted to give my family the best. We were drawn to the diversity that Columbia offers as well as the culture and of course the sense of community. Even before we moved we spent more time in Columbia than we did in Mt. Airy commuting to church and Scouts. I have been a member of Celebration Church for over 10 years. I am active in my sons’ Boy Scout Troop 944 and a leader in the Howard County NAACP chapter. I am also an animal lover and I volunteer with an organization called Hero dogs where we help train service dogs for Veterans who need them. But, most importantly I am a family man. When I am not working or serving the community, you will find me on the lacrosse field or cross-country track or eating out with my beautiful wife and 2 teenaged sons. I hope to bring a fresh perspective to the Columbia Council. I appreciate all the work the Board has done but the pandemic has made it clear that we need to think about things differently. I plan to listen to the community and get their input on what they need and want. I have the energy, the interest and the time to devote to helping the Columbia Council adjust to our new circumstances in a way that it serves our community best.
2. The impact that the pandemic has caused on CA's financials has resulted in the CA Board having to make difficult decisions on which services to keep and which services to cut. How would you prioritize the services and amenities that CA offers? What is CA doing well that they should continue? What could CA be doing better?
The pandemic certainly threw CA for a loop, coming at a point in our fiscal year when cash flow was particularly vulnerable. Drastic measures were needed while the situation was being assessed, and negotiations with our vendors and financial partners were undertaken.
While we are not entirely out of the woods, the situation is certainly much brighter. We will be able to reopen most of our pools this summer and, hopefully, all of them by next year. We are reopening our other facilities as quickly as Covid restrictions allow,
I was disappointed that it became necessary to close down the Haven, but the cost was simply too high and there appeared to be no way we could ever expect it to become sustainable.
There is no simple formula for deciding what services to keep and which to cut. Our intent is to maintain the widest range of offerings that support the greatest number of Columbians in a manner that is financially responsible. We look closely at costs and impacts, and we listen closely to our diverse community for guidance.
The pandemic had a major impact on the CA’s financials and even more importantly on the financials of the community members. The pandemic caused a lot of forward thinking and innovation from the Columbia Council and I am thankful for that. The CA Board has done a good job under some very challenging circumstances by making the tough decision to cut capital spending by 50%. They have had to make some tough decisions but there will continue to be tough choices to make. I believe that it is important to get as much input from the community as possible when those tough choices need to be made and to have as many diverse perspectives at the table as possible to represent the community. CA has improved their newsletter which is great, but this improvement was just implemented recently. CA can do a better job with their transparency with the community about how our tax dollars are utilized and what is being considered for the upcoming budget.
The community outreach has been lacking and CA needs to do a better job with that. I would prioritize services based on the value that they bring to the community and the number of people they serve. For instance, our pools bring value to a large percentage of the community and deserve priority. I would not prioritize a $2 M dollar rainy day fund when we have community members who need to be served now. We have regular town halls but when really big decisions have to be made that will affect a large proportion of the community, I believe the CA should make an even greater effort to get more participation at the town hall and through other outreach modalities. It’s important to have buy-in when making tough decisions and increasing community awareness and participation is one way to get that buy-in.
3. The Columbia Association considers itself the "keeper of the Rouse Vision". How can CA best embrace this role?
Rouse frequently laid out his goals for Columbia:
· Build a complete city.
· Respect the environment.
· Create a place where people can grow.
· Make a profit.
That last point is often misinterpreted – Rouse had investors and lenders who needed to be paid, but most of all, he wanted to show that the type of community he envisioned was no pipe dream – it could be an economically viable reality.
CA embraces those goals. We want to make sure that Columbia never becomes another soulless bedroom community or just more suburban sprawl. We invest heavily in open space, our ponds, lakes, parks, and pathways. We operate in a financially prudent manner. But, most of all, we strive to preserve and protect the spirit and resources that make Columbia what is frequently cited as one of the best places to live in America.
CA can embrace the vision of James Rouse by imploring his view of a beautiful self-sustaining American City that fosters economic, racial, and cultural harmony. The CA can start by having its Board be a reflection of this diversity and harmony. Once the community sees it then they can be it. Rouse believed that we are at our best when we have a sense of responsibility to our city and our neighbors. I would like to maintain his legacy through accepting that responsibility and serving my community. CA can further this vision through initiatives that remind us all that we are our neighbors’ keeper here in Columbia.
Rouse had 4 major goals and the CA can be the “keeper of the Rouse Vision” by measuring its efforts against these 4 main goals. The CA can ask itself whenever a decision needs to be made, which of these 4 major goals does it support.
to create a fully self-sustaining city, not just a better suburb, where residents would both live and work
to respect the land,
to produce the most accommodating environment for the growth of people, and
to make a profit.
4. What role should CA play in community and in economic development? What is CA’s role in spurring investment in older neighborhoods in Columbia?
Keep in mind that CA is not a government. It is an Home Owners Association, and its powers are limited to those allowed by state HOA law. Nevertheless, CA takes a strong interest in community and economic development and can serve as a powerful advocate. Currently, the county is working on a new General Plan, and CA is taking an active role in trying to shape that plan to incorporate the unique values we inherited from Jim Rouse.
This is not an easy role to play since there are special interests whose agendas, supported by the politicians whose campaigns they fund, are often at odds with the public interest.
As the “keepers of the Rouse vision” the CA has a very important role to play in investing in older communities. In keeping with the vision to produce the most accommodating environment for the growth of people, investment in struggling communities should be a top priority. Here are a few roles I see for the CA in that regard.
The CA can elicit input from those communities to find out what investments are most pressing from their perspective.
The CA can provide a forum for those communities to come together to offer some solutions to the problems they perceive in their communities.
The CA can be a vocal advocate for funds being allocated to investment in older communities when it comes time to work on the budget.
Because CA’s governing body represent the villages, they should reach out to the local village which they are part of and work on a plan collectively as a Village.
5. Let's talk about Symphony Woods. What do you envision for the future of Symphony Woods? Do you support the revised plan for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods and protecting Symphony Woods as a CA-owned public amenity?
Since becoming Executive Director of Inner Arbor, Nina Basu has done a remarkable job of redirecting the organization. The new concept plan replaces the previous plan with one that is practical, affordable and in keeping with the park’s character and with Rouse’s goal of making it Columbia’s “Central Park.” I fully support the new plan.
My vision for Symphony Woods is for it to embody everything that Rouse envisioned for Columbia. I envision it being a Hub for business, culture, the Arts and community. I don’t have all of the information about the revised plan for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods but I am eager to learn more. I support a plan that is budget friendly and provides the community with a place that is open and accessible to them for recreation and relaxation.
6. Symphony of Lights has been subject to litigation between the various landowners and downtown arts and culture organizations. What do you want to see happen with Symphony of Lights? Do you support or oppose allowing the event to continue as a driving event on or adjacent to Symphony Woods?
Traditionally, this much-loved hospital fundraiser was held in the Merriweather parking lots over the holiday season. When Howard Hughes began construction on that site, a new location was needed, and a decision was made to move the event inside the restricted confines of the Merriweather Pavilion. The Pavilion is landlocked within Symphony Woods, requiring entrance and egress over CA roadways. The Pavilion owner has easements rights allowing access to loading docks and backstage offices but nothing that would allow a parade of vehicles traversing curving, icy roadways in winter darkness. CA had conversations with the hospital regarding the event, and it was agreed that CA would allow use of Symphony Woods roadways for one additional year, but a new venue such as the County Fairgrounds would have to be found.
When, the following year, event construction began anew, CA reminded the hospital of its commitment, and was told that the hospital no longer owned Symphony of Lights – it had been sold to a for-profit company owned by the Pavilion operator. CA tried to negotiate with the new owner but was rebuffed. CA’s only recourse in protecting its property rights and avoiding liability in the event of accidents was to go to court.
It should be noted that CA’s use of Symphony Woods for general maintenance and for public events at the Chrysalis is not compromised by Symphony of Lights only during the holiday season – construction begins in October and tear-down extends into the following January.
I would certainly like to see Symphony of Lights continue. There is no reason why it could not remain at the current location as a walking event or even be expanded into Symphony Woods itself. All that is needed is a cooperative attitude by the new event owner.
I am aware that the litigation surrounding Symphony of Lights continues. The Symphony of Lights is a beloved Holiday tradition and brings people from all over to our beautiful town of Columbia. It was yearly tradition for my family even before we moved to Columbia. I would like for that tradition to continue. My hope is that a solution can be reached where property rights concerns are addressed and the drive through Symphony of Lights can continue. I am certain this will require compromise and possibly an alteration in the logistics of the way the Symphony of Lights event operates. I look forward to learning more details, hearing the proposals and involving the community as much as possible in the debate and decision making.