Fifteen community leaders who oppose developer control of Columbia's civic association met last week to form a coalition promoting self-government for the 10-year-old new town.
The group, which includes many elected village board members, plans to draft two "platform statements" which they hope will draw the support of candidates in Columbia's mid-April election.
The first statement will support a citizens' report recommending that Columbia become a special tax district by November 1978. That report, endorsed by a cross-section of local officials, was released two weeks ago.
The second statement will outline grievances against the Columbia Association, a developer-controlled, non-profit corporation that collects a property assessment and manages transportation and recreation in the town of 40,000.
The coalition meeting last Saturday marked the first time that elected representatives in Columbia have officially convened to push for community control.
William Coughlan and Ed Windsor, long-time critics of the Columbia Association, organized the meeting, held at the Dasher Green neighborhood center, inviting more than two dozen past and present village board members whom they felt were sympathetic to the "people's interest," rather than the developer's.
Windsor criticized the $38,000 to $50,000 salaries of the Association's top officers, who are appointed by the Howard Research and Development Corporation (HRD), the Columbia developer.
Coughlan and Windsor serve on the Columbia Council, an elected advisory board, and on the executive board of the Columbia Association.
He noted that elected representatives do not participate in bond negotiations nor in setting spending priorities.
Coughlan recalled that HRD originally stated that the Columbia Association would pass to community control by 1977. However, because of financial difficulties resulting from the recession of the early '70s, the date for self-government has been postponed to 1985.
"The date slid all the way to 1985. It could slide again," Coughlin warned. "We have to show them there is community concern. If there is enough pressure, they will be responsive."
With candor normally reserved for private conversation, the local leaders participating at the meeting called Columbia a "company town."
"Some of us behave as if we have power, even though we don't. We participate in the charade," Windsor said.
"Right now we are cattle, thrown in for gloss," declared Dave Olson, of the Harper's Choice Village Board. "We don't have any real power and aren't given any information."
Coughlin added, "I want to be part of a process that makes the Columbia Association publicly accountable. I want to get a coalition together, and be part of a team that works in the people's interest."
The group will reconvene Feb. 19 in Harper's Choice to draft the two platform statements. They said they will encourage other community leaders to attend.