The Columbia Council and Village Board elections are on April 23rd and ballots can be submitted now. See the Voting and Election information for Hickory Ridge website for voting instructions. Jessamine Duvall and Brian England are the two candidates running for Columbia Council to be the Hickory Ridge 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?
The role of the CA Board is to provide strategic direction for the organization, ensure that assessment dollars are being used appropriately (from a 10,000-foot view), hire and evaluate the President & CEO, and review and approve the annual budget. Unfortunately, a lot of people misunderstand the board’s role, including some of my fellow board members. The board is not supposed to be a “watchdog” who questions every staff decision or action - that’s micromanaging. The board should not be approving operational contracts, leases, expenditures, job descriptions, or anything else related to operations.
The role of the CA Board member is to communicate between the Village Board, the Board of Directors and the President. It’s a two way street! At the moment there seems to be a split between those on the board that serve the corporation and those who see their role as representing their village and residents (the lien payers). I don’t see it being one or the other, both interests are important. The CA should see us as customers, it has to be strong and healthy but needs to give us a good product in return. There are not many corporations that have a guaranteed customer base and an income that goes up with the rise in the value of property, so it shouldn’t be hard to reach this goal.
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- Maintaining and Protecting Open Space
3- Parks and Play Areas
4- Village Association Funding
5- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives
6- Outdoor Pools
9- Arts and Culture Programs
10- Youth and Teen Programs
11- Sports and Fitness (i.e. Gyms, Golf, Tennis, Indoor Aquatics, etc.)
12- Lakefront Improvements
I ranked items in this order because Open Space and pools are always ranked highest in resident surveys. That’s what Columbia residents care about most. I think maintaining physical assets (including Open Space and the Villages) has to be prioritized over programming, particularly when there are other options available for residents in many areas.
Question #3. What is one big idea you have that you think the Columbia Association should be pursuing?
I think that CA should create a Columbia museum in downtown Columbia - as a separate 501c3 organization that can do its own fundraising. This could serve as the home of the Archives and would have an exhibition space and educational spaces/classrooms so people can learn about the unique concept and history of Columbia, MD. It would also be a great way to inspire new residents to move here and to ensure that all Columbia residents understand the role of the villages and what their responsibilities are under the covenants. It’s a pipe dream, but maybe someday!
This is hard choice between two things I’m passionate about!
Open Space wins out. Five years ago I worked on a document called “Columbia Planning, Open Space” with the HCCA New Town Committee and Gerry Witte from Oakland Mills. We presented it to Milton Mathews, Denis Mattey and Jane Dembner. Jane then produced the CA “Open Space Assessment Report April 2017” which was very comprehensive. Since then nothing has happened! Recently two issues came in our village that concerned residents, one the new style bridges the other Six Pence Tot lot. Residents should of been involved early in the decision making, better still we need a new “Open Space Plan”. Sixpence Tot lot is a very innovative play area we need this sort of innovation throughout Columbia’s Open Space… Community Gardens, self guided trails, monarchs butterfly way stations, food forestry, nature class rooms…..the list goes on. This sort of approach was presented to the CA by Chiara D’Amore (Freetown Farm) 10 years ago and it was called “Columbia Community Park System” and it was also ignored. We need to reimagine how to care for Open Space and how we use this wonderful resource.
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?
Right now, I don’t feel like CA is being wasteful - maybe before the pandemic, but the organization is much leaner and more efficient now. I think Lakey Boyd, as President/CEO, is looking at everything CA does with an examining eye to determine what can be improved. I think this will ultimately result in ending some fee-based programs and services that are duplicative or unprofitable, but this will likely be a slow, gradual process that will unfold over several years.
I would absolutely support increasing the assessment fee if it would allow CA to better serve our diverse community. The fee has not been increased in many years, despite an increase in the minimum wage and hefty inflation increases. Right now, the bump in the real estate market is creating some additional assessment income for CA, so I don’t think it will be necessary for the FY24 budget, but an increase will inevitably happen sometime in the next 5-10 years, especially if CA remains committed to increasing equity and accessibility for ALL Columbia residents.
Using funds inefficiently is wasteful, here is an example of a way to use funds efficiently.
“While chair of the CA Watershed Advisory Committee (WAC) I worked with current chairman of WAC Deborah Wessner to pass this policy to guide watershed restoration”
The Association will evaluate the potential of projects based on
The Association will not spent substantial more money to increase effectiveness from 75-85% to 95-99% rather the Association will implement a second project that promises to provide broader water quality.
Watershed polices like this were designed to work with other policies to encourage more activity where the rain falls to reduce water flowing in to our streams before major projects are designed.
I do not feel we need to raise the assessment fee, the increase of funds from the rise in property values coupled with the extra funds from the downtown development should be adequate. Re: my answer to question 2, this more about redirecting funds. e.g. not mowing the edges of 100 miles of trails, wasting gas, pollution and manpower, better to convert to small native plants that only need mowing once or twice a year.
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?
During the budget process last year, I asked staff to explore the feasibility of increasing the assessment to fund free pool use for all Columbia residents. Their assessment was that it was technically possible, but would be problematic because funding this would bring CA very close to the cap on assessment increases, limiting CA’s ability to ever increase assessment income again. There would also be a ripple effect that could completely upend the organization. Insurance costs and claims would go up, hiring would need to increase, the wear and tear on the pools would require additional maintenance costs, and CA would likely lose hundreds of members who join CA primarily because of the pools. A change this significant would require years of planning and gradual implementation to ensure CA’s financial health.
That being said, I think we can do a lot more to make CA membership more inclusive and accessible to the community in an effort to serve ALL of Columbia’s diverse residents. I have ideas about how we could do this, but that’s not my job as a board member. :-) The board will need to direct staff by creating specific strategic goals related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. CA is just beginning the DEI journey as an organization. CA recently started implementing DEI initiatives at the staff level, and the board has just recently begun receiving training on DEI concepts thanks to our great HR team. We will only be able to go so far on this path before we will need to create a new strategic plan that integrates DEI into every aspect of the organization. We are on our way!
It has the potential to serve the whole community if it starts communicating with everyone and especially new residents. The CA should encourage villages to deliver ‘welcome packages” to all new residents and the CA should reopen the ‘visitor center’. New residents need to be made welcome and learn what makes Columbia special and why a diverse group of people came to live here.
Question #6. Does CA do enough to support your village? If not, what more should they be doing?
I think CA does a pretty good job supporting the villages, but there is certainly room for improvement. Financially, I think Hickory Ridge is well taken care of, but I think that with better communication between CA and the village(s), some true partnerships between CA and the villages could take root. I would love to see CA sharing information with the village more regularly, as well as sharing some of their resources like staff training, IT services, and HR guidance.
The big disappointment of my current term is the CA Board not voting to reallocate funding from an unrealized capital project in Hickory Ridge so that the Sixpence playground could be replaced to the size and scale of the current structure.
I want Hickory Ridge residents to know that I spearheaded and advocated tirelessly for this project and that CA staff supported the funding reallocation. The decision not to fund the Twin Towers was a CA Board decision. My colleagues Tina Horn, Ashley Vaughan, and Andrew Stack supported this project, while my other 6 colleagues did not. I am very disappointed that they chose to vote against the staff recommendation and the wishes of our Clemens Crossing families. However, I do not think this is over yet.
One of the reasons cited for voting against funding was the fact that this action was not consistent with the newly-adopted CA Tot Lot Policy. However, there are about ten major playgrounds or “Super Tot Lots” in Columbia that simply don’t fit into this policy. If re-elected, I will advocate for an amendment to the Tot Lot Policy that provides guidelines for renovation or replacement of unusual tot lots and establishes a standard for replacing existing super tot lots with equipment that is comparable in size, scale, and quality with the equipment being replaced. THEN we can get a new Sixpence playground constructed.
I believe we have been left out in Hickory Ridge, there was going to be a community area developed near the village center but that never happened. Again this is why we need an “Open Space Plan” that guides the future open space.