For the first time in Columbia's 10-year history, a majority of the candidates for the Columbia Council is committed to community control of the new town.
Voters on Saturday will choose a seven-member board made up of one representative from each local village. Council members also sit on the board of directors and the executive committee of the Columbia Association, a developer-controlled corporation serving as Columbia's quasi-government.
Six of the 10 candidates for the Council - three of them running unopposed - have endorsed creation by November, 1978, of a special tax district to replace or manage CA.
Four of those six candidates have signed a strong platform statement advocating resident participation in bond negotiations, liability insurance for elected officials and disclosures of income sources by all CA board members.
The campaign statement also urges reducing the wages of CA's six appointed officers. Their salaries now range from $25,000 to $50,000 a year.
Only two Council candidates favor the developer's timetable for Columbia self-government, which would see community control evolving over the next five or six years. The exact date depends on CA's repayment of $9 million in subordinated debts guaranteed by the developer, the Howard Research and Development Corp.
Two other candidates in this year's election consider themselves "middle of the road" in Columbia politics.
"I think the tenor of the campaign is different this year because community control . . . is no longer verbiage," said William D. Coughlan, incumbent from the village of Long Reach. He said this new focus resulted from the Alternate Financing Report released last January recommending creation of a special tax district.
The report, researched by 10 residents with diverse political views, concluded that Columbia could save $1 million a year in interest payments on bonds by becoming a unit of local government.
Moreover, the current property lien, averaging $200 per homeowner, would probably convert to a deductible municipal tax.
Evidence of Columbia's changing political climate is the fact that Coughlan and incumbent Ed Windsor of Owen Brown district, both outspoken advocates of self-government, are running unopposed for the first time in three years.
Also facing no opposition is Roy Appletree, a newcomer to Columbia politics from the village of Harper's Choice. Appletree is considered too tough to challenge because he coordinated the widely accepted Alternate Financing Report, Windsor said.
Also running unopposed is Jeanne Nicholson, current chairperson of Town Center, who said she is becoming "more sympathetic to this liberal view than I have been in the past."
Columbia Council chairman Henry Clark of Oakland Mills faces opposition from Harry Dunbar, whom he easily defeated last year. Dunbar, who signed the platform statement urging community control, criticizes Clark as a "pawn" of the developer who "doesn't take a stand."
Clark, seeking his third Council term, said he views his role as a "negotiator."
"I know what will and will not work and I can work within the framework . . . and effect changes I think are reasonable," he explained.
For example, Clark says the salary dispute should be forgotten for the present. "I think it is unfortunate that the whole issue is being raised again. We dealt with that issue last year. Salaries should be lower - but it is not an achievable thing at this moment."
The platform Dunbar endorsed points out that reducing CA officers' salaries from corporate to municipal levels would free at least $50,000 a year for community projects or interest payments.
Jean Peterson, Council candidate from Wilde Lake, added that since CA salaries are funded through the resident property lien, "they should be in the public salary range."
Peterson, who signed the controversial platform statement, conducted a recreation facility survey for the council. She criticized HRD and CA for working outside of the regular budget process to negotiate athletic club expansion last year.
"Resident should have more input on these issues," she said. "These issues don't affect the developer's profits or his ability to continue developing Columbia.
Peterson, a budget analyst, is running against Marian Van Horn, who currently sits on the Wilde Lake Village Board. Van Horn, a local real estate agent, considers herselt "very middle of the road." She said that while she "strongly" supports the Alternate Financing Report, she's not ready to demand a multitude of changes.
"We are at a crossroads of change and something totally different. Sometimes it is frightening to me that people are jumping one way or another without assessing where we are going and what we are going to do with it," she said.
The Council's third contested election is between Herb Gillette, a supporter of resident self-government and Marc Shirmerman who describes himself as a conservative on the local political scene.
"I am leaning toward the developer's timetable. It had been working so far," commented Zimmerman, a restaurateur, who sits on the Hickory Ridge Village Board.
Gillette, current village board chairman, disagrees calling the local government process " [WORD ILLEGIBLE] politics" comparable to participation in the PTA.
If Columbia were a condominium association with 300 to 500 families, Gillette said he could go along with the developer retaining control until a major portion of the units were sold.
Although Columbia is not even half completed, he argued, "when you have 43,000 residents, I think it gets to be unfair to the people."
Candidates are also running for seats on Columbia's seven village boards where the issues concern community center management and architectural convenants. Turnout in local election is usually low, averaging 15 to 20 per cent, according to Clark.