The Columbia Council and Village Board elections are on April 23rd and ballots can be submitted now. See the Voting and Election information for Harper's Choice website for voting instructions. Ashley Vaughan and Alan Klein are the two candidates running for Columbia Council to be the Harper's Choice representation on the Columbia Association Board of Directors. Here are their responses to these questions.
Question #1. What do you think is the role of a member of the CA Board of Directors?
Our role is to represent the best interests of the people that live in our community. We guide the mission and objectives of Columbia Association, an organization that we interact with in a variety of ways, at all ages, on a daily basis. It is our responsibility to lead with values that continue pushing Columbia towards the inclusive community it was created to be.
There are actually two answers to that question, reflecting the dual nature of The Columbia Association.
On the one hand, CA Board members are directors of a multi-million-dollar corporation and therefore do what board members do. They set policy for the organization, including determining the Mission, Vision, and Values that the organization adopts. They hire the CA President and oversee their work.
On the other hand, CA is also a homeowners’ association and, in many ways, the “quasi-government” of Columbia. It is the chief keeper and protector of the values that Jim Rouse infused into Columbia from the beginning:
- Respect the land
- Be a complete city, not just a bedroom community
- Be a place for people, which includes racial and economic integration and keeping development to a human scale
- Make a profit for those who take the risks to make the first three goals happen
CA Board members represent the community and, with the exception of the fourth goal, which Howard County oversees, need to keep these goals in the forefront as they guide CA into the future.
Question #2. Rank the following CA programs and services in order of how important these initiatives are to you. Explain your rankings and identify any items in the list that you believe CA should increase funding to?
List: Maintaining and Protecting Open Space; Outdoor Pools; Sports and Fitness (ie. Gyms, Golf, Tennis, Indoor Aquatics, etc.); Pathways; Parks and Play Areas; Village Association Funding; Events; Sustainability; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives; Lakefront Improvements; Arts and Culture Programs; Youth and Teen Programs
1. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives
2. Maintaining and Protecting Open Space
5. Outdoor Pools
6. Parks and Play Areas
7. Village Funding
8. Sports and Fitness (ie. Gyms, Golf, Tennis, Indoor Aquatics, etc.)
9. Lakefront Improvements
10. Youth and Teen Programs
11. Arts and Culture Programs
Some signature qualities of Columbia are our diversity, great schools, and beautiful open spaces – plus all those paths that connect you from one place to another! Those qualities are the same ones that I prioritize. DEI is foundational to what Columbia is, and we must continue to invest in integration, resource equity, and accessibility.
The pathways are one of my favorite features of Columbia. In addition to the benefit of exercising along the paths, they provide critical access for people to travel without a vehicle. We are the stewards of our land and are responsible for protecting and enacting local initiatives that support sustainability.
Our facilities like outdoor pools, parks, gyms, and sporting locations, are another special Columbia feature. As the pandemic began, we had some issues with stabilizing staffing for some of these facilities. Ensuring this valuable facet of Columbia life improves is vital for the future of our community, as they have a great impact on our mental health, physical health, and social support.
- Village Association Funding
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives
- Maintaining and Protecting Open Space
- Parks and Play Areas
- Outdoor Pools
- Arts and Culture Programs
- Youth and Teen Programs
- Lakefront Improvements
- Sports and Fitness (i.e., Gyms, Golf, Tennis, Indoor Aquatics, etc.)
All of these are certainly important functions for CA. Funding villages is a sacred trust for CA…or at least it should be. CA has always assessed residents on its own behalf and on the villages’ behalf so that residents are not billed twice and so that the villages don’t have to duplicate the infrastructure involved. CA unfortunately considers all assessment dollars as its own and sees the funds it sends to the villages as “grants”. This is unacceptable to me. I have worked hard to ensure that CA sees the villages’ money as just that…the villages’ money!
Sustainability is second. I believe that we always have to ensure that future generations have a healthy, successful, diverse, and inclusive community in which to live, work, and play.
DEI is vital to sustainability and to Columbia’s values and vision. DEI has been the foundation of my professional and community work for decades.
Open Space, which includes pathways, parks, play areas, and (for me) the outdoor pools is central to continuing Columbia’s identity as a garden which grows people.
Programs and events are other ways in which CA serves our diverse community and helps include people of all ages and walks of life.
Question #3. What is one big idea you have that you think the Columbia Association should be pursuing?
CA maintains over 3,600 acres of open space. I would like to see CA convert a large amount of what is currently turf grass into a variety of native plants and encourage the village covenants to do the same. We have an opportunity to reduce our water and pesticide usage, and reduce our carbon footprint, all while improving local ecosystems. This is an important step we should take as stewards of the land. Given that there are waiting lists for the Columbia Gardens, utilizing some of the land for community gardens is something that I would like to see explored as well. We have an opportunity to implement policies that will help future generations as we combat climate change.
Many people refer to CA as one of the largest HOAs in the country. After all, over 100,000 people live in Columbia. However, CA is unique among HOAs in that in actuality, only ten people are members of the CA HOA - the 10 board members! This leads to an insularity within the board that, despite the members’ best intentions, causes them to be too often out of touch with the community. In addition, CA functions as a sort of “quasi-government” for Columbia. We assess residents an annual charge. You, as residents of Columbia, should have more of a say in what happens in Columbia. Therefore, I support working to make all residents of Columbia members of the CA HOA. To those who say that CA is too big for everyone to be a member, I point you to our “sister planned community”, Reston, Virginia. They have successfully allowed residents to be members for decades. Why shouldn’t we?
Question #4. Does CA currently fund anything that you view as wasteful? If so, what? Would you reduce funding to any current programs/services (which ones?) and/or be supportive of increasing the CA assessment fee to fund the initiatives you identified in your response to question 2 or 3?
CA recently went through a reorganization and has refreshed its budget process to now allow for multiple stages of community input. I am happy with the budget that we have passed this cycle and am looking forward to seeing how it pans out.
One of the most important questions we dealt with on the CA Board was what to fund out of your assessment dollars and for what to charge a fee. If your assessment dollars are used, then it means that you, along with all Columbians, are paying proportionally for that service. If a fee is charged, then just the user is paying for the service they are enjoying. Looked at this way, it comes down to a question of community benefit. If a service benefits a user more than it does the community as a whole, then I believe that a fee should be charged. Sports and Fitness is the area I have wanted to look more closely at in terms of altering our funding model. Our facilities are wonderful and help make Columbia the special place it is. However, why should you help subsidize my trip to the gym or the golf course? What we all should be subsidizing are Sports and Fitness accessibility for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to on their own. We should be looking at making our Sports and Fitness facilities self-sustainable, while protecting access for all.
Question #5. Do you believe that CA adequately serves the entirety of Columbia's diverse population? If not, what would you do to improve upon that?
We are a board of ten white people representing about 100k people that are about 50% white. We need diverse representation. We can do more to improve civic engagement, communication, and participation in village elections.
I am working to expand our Minority Business Enterprise program, which establishes procurement goals for minority-owned, women-owned, and disabled-owned businesses.
For many years CA, has been driven by older generations and continues to show strong support for seniors. One of the biggest gains of some of the new CA board members like myself is adding the perspective of different groups to leadership, including younger generations. It’s important that our leadership be as varied as our residents.
Speaking as a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) professional, I believe that “adequacy” is way too low a bar. DEI is foundational to Columbia’s identity and, as such, CA needs to be leaders in promoting the many ways our community is and can be diverse, enhancing the inclusion of all, and monitoring and maintaining an equitable city. CA has done a pretty good job in accounting for economic diversity in the prices it charges for programs and in the discounts that are available. It has accounted for generational diversity by having programs for school-aged kids, teens, and seniors. It has accounted for ability/disability diversity by paying close attention to accessibility in its facilities. One issue Columbia faces is how to sustain meaningful relationships across differences, especially race, particularly once our kids get past school-age. I have urged the CA Multi-Cultural Advisory Committee, which does great cross-cultural work, to include this in their charter. It looks like CA needs to apply additional resources to creating programs and forums for advancing such diverse, inclusive relationships. This will help all residents feel like they belong here and relate to each other as Columbians and should increase diverse participation in CA and Columbia’s governance.
Question #6. Does CA do enough to support your village? If not, what more should they be doing?
People that are new to Columbia are frequently surprised to learn that our villages are independent of one another and Columbia Association. Many believe that all work together on events, programs, etc. I wish there were more coordination. The villages and Columbia Association offer such unique spaces and programs, that there is plenty of room to promote one another. For instance, providing village materials at CA facilities, listing the links and suggesting their community centers for rental spaces, and sharing their events on social media would be a great way to get residents involved with their local village. This would increase revenue to the villages and local economy, in addition to informing more folks about the great local spaces we have. In turn, involved residents learn more about how to become active in their community, and start to run for roles; like the Columbia Association Board or one of the advisory committees.
Harper’s Choice has been well-supported by CA in the past and I foresee that continuing into the future. Our many paths, streams, and ponds provide enjoyment and value for all of our residents and visitors. The Athletic Club, of course, recently underwent a major renovation and is more usable and enjoyable for its members. Kahler Hall has been maintained and improved as requested by our Village Association. The sports facilities in the Village Center are well used and very family friendly.