Wilde Lake: Columbia Council Candidates Q&A
The following are responses from the Wilde Lake candidates for Columbia Council / CA Board of Directors. Information on the Wilde Lake election and voting is available here.
1. Please tell me a bit about yourself and what you hope to bring to the Columbia Council.
I am a 20+ year resident of Columbia, the last 15 in Wilde Lake. I have been a community activist during that time, but not a part of CA’s various structures and committees. My experiences give me an outsider’s perspective on an institution that places great reverence and probably too much trust in “the way we have always done it.” My child is in his final year in HCPSS, having attended Columbia schools from Kindergarten to 12th grade . I have a long history of nonprofit and association experience, including almost 10 years at Enterprise Community Partners (formerly the Enterprise Foundation), Jim Rouse’s affordable housing financing intermediary. My service to the community includes working on issues of equity in our schools and fighting against racial injustices. I hope to bring a clear and consistent voice for equity to the CA, as well as fostering a stronger organizational commitment to previously disenfranchised community members.
I moved to Columbia in 1972. I have lived in Wilde Lake since 2000. I am a father, husband, and engineer. I have extensive experience in the community. I have served on the following: Wilde Lake Village Board (9 years), Howard County Planning Board (5 years), Howard County Board of Appeals (3 years), PTA Council of Howard County (2 years), Running Brook Elementary School PTA (2 years). In addition to serving on each of these organizations, I have sought and attained a leadership role in each place. Having grown up in Columbia, I recognize that this city has given so much to me. Since moving to Wilde Lake, I have been dedicated to giving back to the community through volunteering and leadership.
I bring to the Columbia Council two decades of acquired knowledge and experience. Due to this knowledge and experience, I have a much smaller learning curve than my fellow candidates. I am ready to start on the first day. I also bring a history of building consensus, a passion for researching the issues before the board, and providing leadership on every level that I have served.
I’ve been a proud resident of Wilde Lake Village (Bryant Woods) where I’ve served on the Wilde Lake Village Board, held the role of Chairman of the Neighborhood Representative Committee and ran the Wilde Lake National Night Out Program.
My family includes my amazing wife Alexis and our three wonderful children. My wife and I have had the pleasure of living in the MD/DC area for almost 20 years, originally migrating from the Midwest. By day, I’m an Information Technology Manager and Consultant. My corporate and project management background provides me with the experience needed to work on complex projects, attain common ground resolutions, and work with people who have diverse viewpoints.
I’m committed to keeping you informed of CA programs and policies that affect you, your family, your home and your neighborhood. Most of all, I want to give you every opportunity to speak up, get involved and take action.
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?
I would prioritize CA’s services and amenities based on a combination of factors including the number of people who use the service/amenity, the cost to provide the service/amenity, how best to assure equity among Columbians in making sure access is available to the most people, and the environmental impact of the service/amenity. Based on commentary I am hearing from my neighbors, we are gravely disappointed that not all the pools are opening, that resources have been wasted suing Symphony of Lights, and that CA leadership lacks the imagination and creativity that more diversity would bring. I believe that CA has been maintaining our walking/running/biking trails to community expectations. CA has so much potential and could be such a force for good in Columbia. CA could be seeking community input from communities it has typically not considered vigorously enough. Then it can prioritize meeting those needs. CA’s focus on stewarding only physical or financial assets could be expanded to include stewarding the people of Columbia.
It is important to recognize the State and County imposed pandemic restrictions, although necessary, have caused unusually difficult stresses on CA finances. Not since about 1975 has CA faced such dire circumstances. The point here is that for 45 years, CA fiscal restraint was based on revenue increases not meeting expectations. In 2020, revenue went down. Therefore, prioritization in this time is not consistent with other years when the CA budget called for fiscal restraint.
I believe that when making reductions to services, CA must look at two metrics simultaneously: use and scope. No one wants to see services cut that they personally use, but if cuts have to be made, those services and facilities that are least used will need to be looked at first. In addition, any services, programs, or facilities that serve only a narrow portion of the population (even if well attended) should equally be considered for reduction or elimination from the budget. From these endpoints, the board should assess progressively higher use, and broader scope until the budgetary goals are met. In all cases, communication to those affected is essential, explaining why the cuts had to be made and possible alternative arrangements.
I believe CA has done well maintaining open spaces, in particular around the lakes. On the other hand, I believe CA has had trouble communicating its pandemic response to residents. This must improve.
First the CA and the Villages have clearly had a difficult year, the whole world has. I applaud the current Board, CA staff and the same for the Villages for the work they have done.
For the amenities we need to look at three factors when determining what can be operated - usage by residents, ability to secure staff, and the ability to operate the service under current conditions. The pools for example, were and are having a difficult time finding the needed number of lifeguard staff.
One of the items I believe that the CA did well was allowing the Villages to hold on to excess cash as reserve against the changing conditions during the pandemic. This is a program I hope that they will continue.
3. The Columbia Association considers itself the "keeper of the Rouse Vision". How can CA best embrace this role?
I agree that CA is an important keeper of the Rouse Vision, though they’re certainly not the only one. CA can best embrace this role through many avenues: in addition to stewarding the physical (like Open Spaces and the pools, for example) and financial assets of the community, but also through intentional work stewarding the people of Columbia. Rouse said that cities are gardens for growing people, therefore more than just our physical surroundings must be tended. Community is built through shared experiences and values. Deliberate and important work must occur around educating community members of all ages about Rouse’s Vision: fostering ongoing discussions, book clubs, art installations, online meet ups, live-streams, and other interactions and shared experiences. Orienting new Columbians to our history is a critical piece of this puzzle. What does it mean to live in Columbia? Why is this place unlike others? Why is that important? Understanding that the Rouse Vision must be adapted to the current times and challenges, especially our environmental and racial injustice crises, which demands flexibility and innovation that CA can and must rise to meet.
In my personal opinion, the Columbia Association can best keep the Rouse Vision through action. Specifically, those actions include managing open space and providing experiences (services, facilities, and programs) that bring the people of Columbia together. Some of the best examples are decidedly low visibility. Daily walks around Wilde Lake and along West Running Brook Road bring out young couples pushing strollers and Columbia Pioneers covering the same path they blazed decades ago. Think about watching a movie on Netflix versus watching the same movie with Mr. B on Lake Kittamaquandi. One is decidedly Rousian – a mosaic of people of different backgrounds and experiences, and one is not. On a limited basis, this also exists at many CA facilities. Often times, when I return from the gym, the discussion in my household is not “how was your workout,” but “who did you see” or “who did you meet” during your workout? The same holds for pools. Where CA falls short on the Rouse Vision is that memberships don’t reach all economic levels in Columbia.CA needs to improve the experience at its facilities by extending membership availability to a greater portion of the residents. In addition, CA needs to make the experience at the facilities more conducive to generating friendships and neighborliness.
By sticking to the four goals of Columbia
To build a complete city - continually look at what this means for the residents. What are the villages missing for people to live, play and work in Columbia?
To respect the land - Environmental stewardship, updating/maintaining the trails, tot lots and protecting Symphony Woods as a wooded community green space.
To provide for the growth of people - economic and racial integration, human-scale development
To make a profit - After the first three goal are met. Necessary for financial stability and growth.
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?
CA can and should play a role in fostering investment and re-investments into Columbia’s people, neighborhoods, and businesses. Economic development can include work like requiring a certain portion of CA’s supply chain be locally-based, as well as targeting contracting and purchasing to African-American and other minority-owned businesses. CA’s stewardship of our open spaces, pools, trails, and other amenities help keep our quality of life high. Deliberate listening to under-represented communities within Columbia is an investment as well and could unleash pent up creativity to enhance Columbia further. Community development must seek to redress past inequities and lift up our most marginalized and vulnerable neighbors. Because CA’s financial resources are limited, the organization must seek out, build, and nurture solid and mutually beneficial relationships with County government and County-wide institutions and organizations.
Traditionally, CA has not played a big role in commercial development. For the most part, I believe this practice should continue. The exception should be with respect to planning and zoning matters. CA Should weigh in if proposed commercial development is out of character or not in harmony with Columbia. Conversely, is commercial development is consistent with the character of Columbia, CA should testify in favor.
With respect to community development, it is important to consider what CA already does in Columbia neighborhoods. CA maintains open space, tot lots, the neighborhood center buildings, and swimming pools. CA also plays a role in the architectural control of every residential lot in the city. I know a lot of residents that believe this is already a lot of CA involvement in their neighborhoods, and I can respect this point of view.
On the other hand, CA is being asked to do more as time goes on. At one time, the school system and Columbia worked well together. Today, at the elementary school level, we have children in Owen Brown going to school in Oakland Mills, children in Hickory Ridge going to school in Wilde Lake, and children in Wilde Lake going to school in Harpers Choice. If not CA, who will stand up for Columbia’s children? This is but one example, but CA must look to partner with and advocate for social change now more than ever.
To build a complete city, the first of the goals of Columbia. The CA’s role should be to examine what is missing from a village in cooperation with the village board. Is a restaurant, joint business centers or other items missing in an area? What do we need to bring people together, especially after the COVID pandemic?
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?
Symphony Woods has such exciting potential as a home for arts, entertainment, and community building. I love the components of the revised plan and think that the park could be a fantastic addition to the community. Bridges will highlight the separation of the park from “ordinary space” and add to the specialness of the experience. The ridgeline concept and the amenities building offer creative solutions for bringing people into the park by offering physical comfort and possibilities for art and discussion. Pathways and playgrounds are quintessentially Columbia and help tie the park and the city together. Pavilions provide outdoor space for smaller gatherings of family and friends. I believe that the park must be built and protected and that it will serve to pull people from outside of Columbia as well.
For decades, residents in Columbia experienced Symphony Woods almost exclusively through their car windshields as they drove down Little Patuxent Parkway. The Downtown Columbia Plan was supposed to change that and bring people out of their cars and into the park. Since that time, excepting the Chrysalis, little has been done to bring people in the park. Moreover, the number of days the park is closed to the public has increased.
The revised plan for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods does engender a sense of wonder and I do support the plan. However, I am concerned about the cost of the bridges, in terms of both initial construction and annual maintenance dollars. This should not be a deal breaker, there must exist a balance between quality of design and cost of construction and maintenance. I am confident all parties can find this balance expeditiously.
A few last words on Symphony Woods being a CA-owned public amenity. As a CA Board member, I will not vote to transfer Symphony Woods to any other entity. This park has always been intended to be used by people without restriction. Over the last few years, the number of calendar days the park has been closed to the public, for private gain, has steadily increased. The entities that have removed the park from the public have used legal means far short of transferring ownership, and it has to stop. I will stand and protect Symphony Woods.
My vision for Symphony Woods is an accessible protected wooded park that all residents of Columbia can enjoy now and into the future. So yes, I do support Symphony Woods as a CA-Owned public amenity.
The revised plan contains several elements that I support – bridges, benches, bathrooms and pathways for accessible usage of the park for example. Especially for those who might have challenges with movement. We must enable access to bring people to the park, integrate the pathway system with areas that complement the area like the HC Library, and at the same time be extremely restrictive/conservative in our development activities in the Woods. The visitors center is an example of something that I would question the need for.
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?
Symphony of Lights has been an important shared experience among Columbians since it began. Community building is a critical part of CA’s mandate as a keeper of Rouse’s Vision. I want to see Symphony of Lights continue as a driving event on or adjacent to Symphony Woods. I want elementary schools to continue to schedule and enjoy shared walking tours of the lights to create treasured memories. I want Symphony of Lights to expand to the County Fairgrounds, not relocate there. All of the leaders involved in bringing this experience to our community must work together without resorting to litigation, which has been an embarrassing waste of time, money, political capital, intra-organizational goodwill, and reputations.
I believe the Symphony of Lights was a great way to raise money for the hospital by using empty parking lots. Those parking lots are no longer there, but we have an event that is deeply loved by residents, and I count myself as one of them. The recent Symphony of Lights have not been quite the same as they once were. I have not heard anyone say that since the display moved from the empty parking lots, that it is better. To save Symphony of Lights, and restore its charm, it should be moved to another location.
And that should not be the end of the discussion. In addition to the drive through display that has been Symphony of Lights, the idea of something to do in downtown Columbia during the Winter holiday season, that was not based on shopping, appealed to a lot of people. An earlier question in this post referenced the revised plan for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods. If the current Symphony of Lights display is moved elsewhere, I believe illuminating the four bridges and ridgeline with holiday lights would be a great new downtown event. This could be a win for the Symphony of Lights, a win for the revised Symphony Woods plan, and a win for the local hospital. If elected, I will advocate passionately for this plan.
Symphony of Lights is an event that my family looks forward too. I have driven and walked the event. I very much would like it to continue in some form that continues the light display and protects/respects Symphony Woods. A walking event on the current SoL course or as part of an expanded winter festival incorporating the new Merriweather neighborhood would be my preference.
One of my first acts as your representative to the Columbia Council would be to review this legal case and to consult with the CA’s legal counsel as to the behind-the-scenes details of the case, items that are not generally going to appear in news articles.
My understanding is that the basic facts are that the organization running the Symphony of Lights is a for profit company and they are using CA property without the permission of the CA. If that is the case, then that is not acceptable. No one wants to see or have a protracted legal dispute and negotiated settlement between the many parties involved is the preference but if someone parks on your lawn, you're likely to have them towed.