Politicization of Columbia Association and Village Elections
With elections just days away and early voting already underway, this article shares observations about how these elections have become interestingly politicalized and involved substantial campaigning and garnered interest from local politicians and activists. This article summarizes the known campaigning, involvement of politicians and activists in this campaign season, and brief commentary on the topic. This article does not (nor could it) comprehensively describe all election activities by every individual in Columbia.
Below is a reference table with all candidates seeking election. Contested elections are in bold.
CA Board of Director Candidates
Village Board Candidates
Uncontested (1 candidate): Chris Fuchs
Uncontested (3 candidates for 3 openings): Luke Menefee, Derek Carey, Crissy Simpson
No Election (Alan Klein entering 2nd year of his term)
Uncontested (3 candidates for 3 openings): Ann DeLacy, Joel Hurewitz, and Jennifer Medillin
Brian England (I), Skye Anderson
Contested (9 candidates for 5 openings): William Inglis, Jared Ball, Jeremy Dommu, James Blackwood, Jonathan A. McKinney, Stephen Hannan, Mariah Robertson, Chris Smith, and Kristine Amari
Uncontested (1 candidate): Keith O'Neil (I)
Uncontested (2 candidates for 3 openings): Carol Huegel and Barb Seely
Reginald T. Avery and Rick McCray
Contested: (3 candidates for 2 openings): Saura C. Sahu, Dr. Lillian Norris-Holmes, Nina Basu)
Amy Brooks and Karin Emery
Uncontested (4 candidates for 7 openings): Rebecca Bryant, Jonathan Edelson, Bill McCormack Jr, Warren Wortman
No Election (Andy Stack entering 2nd year of his term)
Contested (6 candidates for 3 openings): William H. Campbell, Brad Butler, Robert Golibersuch, Mae Beale, Deidre Walsh, and Persephone Lee
Eric Greenberg (I) and Dipper Weitstein
Contested (6 candidates for 3 openings): Carlos Acker, Mark Combs, David Donovan, Moe Imran, Rob Mekelburg, and Muyiwa Odeniyide
No Election (Lin Eagan entering 2nd year of her term)
Uncontested (4 candidates for 4 openings)
Bill Santos (I) and Francis Uy
Uncontested (3 candidates for 5 openings): TIna Horn, Kevin McAliley, and Kondi Walters-Smith
Several current, former, and aspiring politicians - as well as several local activists across from across the local political spectrum (not described in detail) - are running in or campaigning for multiple Columbia Association (CA) and Village positions up for election this April.
Two candidates seeking election to CA or Village positions also sought election to political positions in 2022:
Current Position Sought
Political Position Pursued in 2022
Result of 2022 Pursuit
Oakland Mills CA Representative
Maryland House of Delegates
Lost in Democratic primary
Owen Brown Village Board
Howard County Council
Lost as Republican nominee in general election
Additionally, four candidates (Karin Emery, Moe Imran, Francis Uy, and Mae Beale) ran for Howard County Democratic Central Committee, which is a organizing committee supporting the Democratic party and Democrats running for office. Mae Beale was one of the 21 winners in that race.
The individuals and groups who are or have been elected officials and are actively campaigning in the current Columbia elections are summarized in the following table:
Howard County Council representative for District 4
Howard County Council representative for District 2
Howard County Council representative for District 3
Former Howard County Executive
Former Howard County Council, Maryland Delegate, and current CA Boardmember
The Merriweather Post asked Councilmembers Jung, Jones, and Rigby about why they felt supporting candidates in Columbia elections warrant the attention of County Councilmembers. In response, Ms. Rigby distinguished between her role as a council member and other civic responsibilities such as supporting her children's schools, supporting local swim teams, and the general importance of engaging with members of her community. Ms. Rigby stated her support for Ms. Brooks is an extension of those types of community efforts. Mr. Jones and Ms. Jung did not reply.
Recruitment. Prior to the election, incumbent board members - including at least Alan Klein and Ginny Thomas - and local activists actively recruited candidates to run for positions across all villages.
Campaigning. Most candidates have actively campaigned in at least some way including flyers, yard signs, websites, social media campaigns, and door knocking efforts. The elected officials listed above and local activists have supported candidates in some of these efforts.
Financing. Although difficult to determine with certainty, some facts around financing can be observed or deduced:
Most candidates appear to be spending/receiving nothing or modest (~$250 or less) amounts on their campaign.
Both candidates for Oakland Mills (which has a voluntary campaign finance disclosure process), have raised moderate sums of money from friends and family. As of April 10th, Amy Brooks has raised $740 and Karin Emery (probably the best-funded candidate in any race) has raised $1,335. Ms. Brooks has also reused some material (signs, shirts) from her 2022 state delegate campaign.
In Hickory Ridge, winning candidates must disclose contributions and expenditures within 48 hours and can receive and spend no more than $250.
Slates of candidates (described below) appear to be pooling their resources in a way that keeps individual spending modest but can create a much larger pooled total.
For context, yard signs can be bought in bulk for around $4-$5 a piece, large signs can be bought for around $100, and websites can be hosted for around $10 per month.
Several candidates appear to have received in-kind support in simple ways like graphical and website design or door-knocking/literature distribution.
Slates. In Hickory Ridge, candidates have formed slates based on common platforms and shared values. Brian England (CA Board) and village board candidates Bill Inglis, Jared Ball, James Blackwood, Chris Smith and Kristine Amari are campaigning together on a platform that they oppose the proposed redevelopment of the Hickory Ridge Village Center. Skye Anderson (CA Board) and village board candidates Jeremy Dommu, Jonathan McKinney, Stephen Hannan, and Mariah Robertson are campaigning on a platform of community building and ensuring village board and CA activities support and represent the entirety of their community. In Owen Brown, Persephone Lee, Bill Campbell, and Deidre Walsh - have disturbed flyers indicating they are also running as a slate. In River Hill, Carlos Acker, David Donovan, and Muyiwa Odeniyide are running as one slate and Moe Imran, Rob Mekelburg, and Mark Combs are running as another.
Broadly speaking, there is a unifying thread among multiple campaigns that CA's staff in general and previous CA President/CEO Lakey Boyd, in particular, as well as several community volunteers are not trustworthy, do not have the community's best interest at heart, and that a key role of the CA Board of Directors is to prevent a corrupt staff from taking advantage of the community. This belief is not supported by evidence and contradicted by the fact that CA's staff largely live in and are part of the community.
In contrast several candidates spoke in support of Ms. Boyd (and CA's staff more generally). These candidates are not unified beyond their mutual belief that the board's handling of its relationship with Ms. Boyd was flawed and are not coordinating their campaigns.
It is understandable why people interested in political office are also interested in CA/Village positions: they think they have something to offer to the communities they care about. For better or worse, multiple local politicians have "started" as village or CA board members and it is likely that at least some (but not all) of the candidates in this election have sights set on higher office which helps explain at least some of the politization of these races. There are, however, multiple potential downsides to the politization of these races:
The decisions CA needs to make are not aligned with any partisan issues: The preponderance of CA's resources are spent on maintaining its 3,600 acres of open space - primarily lakes, tot-lots, and paths - and operating its amenities - primarily gyms, pools, and other sports facilities. These priorities are completely uncontroversial - every candidate up for election places a high value on open space, pools, and tot-lots. These are not partisan issues - politicizing them only makes them more difficult to address.
The CA and Village Boards are not Legislative Bodies: Too many people who seek positions on the CA or Village board of directors have a fundamental misunderstanding of the positions they are pursuing. Many incorrectly believe they are seeking positions in a legislative body or parliamentary form of government. CA and the villages are not governments with legislatures - they are corporations overseen by a board of a directors. Partisan politics is detrimental to the operation of a corporation (non-profit or otherwise).
Specific to village elections, political involvement is antithetical to the Village's primary mission to facilitate a sense of small-town community. Partisan approaches harm the intended vision to gather the community together.
Insinuated Corruption. Multiple campaigns have emphasized the "grassroots" nature of their campaigns while insinuating their opponents do not have the best interests of the community at heart. Attempts to delegitimize opponents (who are first and foremost neighbors) and cast doubt on the sincerity of anyone's commitment to the community rather than respectfully disagreeing about policy choices is harmful to our community.
Dissuading participation. While the campaigning door knocking and other activities is certainly raising awareness about these races, it may also dissuade people from volunteering to serve in these roles. Giving up a couple nights a month to attend a board meeting to occasionally get yelled at by an upset neighbor is one thing but feeling the need to invest hundreds of dollars, solicit donations, door knock, and endure personal attacks is a completely different level of commitment. The increased politization of these positions may dissuade drama-averse but otherwise effective potential board members from volunteering in the future.
Overall the passion for community being demonstrated is great but people must not lose sight of the fact that everyone involved is their neighbor. The ability to respectfully disagree with our neighbors does more to make Columbia a pleasant place to live, work, and grow a family than any policy CA or a village can implement.
About the Author: Michael Golibersuch is a Columbia resident. He is a member of the Owen Brown board of directors but the views in this blog are his own. He is in the middle of a two year term and not up for election this year. He supports the incumbents seeking reelection on the Owen Brown Board of Directors: Mae Beale, Bob Golibersuch (his father), and Brad Butler. He has not campaigned for candidates in any other races. He frequently discusses CA issues and campaign efforts with multiple people (including candidates) in multiple in-person and online forums. His writing on The Merriweather Post is not an indication that he agrees with all views expressed in this blog.
About the Publisher: Jeremy Dommu is founder and publisher of The Merriweather Post. He is a member of the Hickory Ridge board of directors and is seeking reelection . He supports the candidancies of Skye Anderson, Mariah Robertson, Steve Hannan, and Jonanthan McKinney. Note about the author and publisher: The author of this article and the manager of this blog have stake in or are candidates in this election. They are not trying to hide this fact and encourage reasonable skepticism about their motivation and equities in this election when reading this article.