The 10-member Columbia Council soon may be no more.
Council members, who also function as a board of directors for the nonprofit Columbia Association, have decided that wearing two hats is unnecessary. Last week, they took the first step toward dissolving the council. Members still would be elected to the board by the 10 villages that make up Columbia.
The move was opposed by two members who say it could have a chilling effect on their freedom of speech and could silence dissenters on the board.
The change is part of a series of revisions to the Columbia Association charter that will be discussed at 7 p.m. Monday during a public meeting at the Columbia Association headquarters, 10221 Wincopin Cir.
Among the other proposed changes are creating the same term for all council members and a uniform one-person, one-vote system. Some villages elect representatives every year, while others choose them every two years. In some villages, every resident is allowed to vote, while in others only property owners can.
A vote on the charter changes is tentatively set for Sept. 8.
"The idea is that all the management authority for the Columbia Association should be under the law of corporations, where the policy-making body is a board of directors," said Joshua Feldmark, chairman of the Columbia Council and board of directors, who lives in Wilde Lake.
"It is just confusing, we felt, for people to have those council meetings when the council couldn't do anything and the board had the authority to make decisions."
The board, for instance, sets the annual budget and approves the lien rate that residents pay for amenities such as parks, pools and golf courses.
Members are not paid to serve on the board or the council.
Barbara Russell, a council and board member from Oakland Mills, said this week that under Maryland law, boards of directors for non-stock corporations must operate for the good of the corporation. She said she could foresee times that her responsibilities to the corporation would conflict with her duties to represent the people from her village who elected her.
Russell and board member Wolfger Schneider, who lives in Harper's Choice, voted against dissolving the council at the July 14 meeting. Council member Pearl Atkinson-Stewart was absent.
In an interview this week, Russell also said she is worried that dissolving the council could further limit members' ability to communicate with their constituents, talk to reporters or express their views in other ways.
"People on the board say this won't change anything, that we are free to talk. What they are talking about is current practice, not what we will be free to do in the future," Russell said.
Jud Malone, the Town Center representative, who sponsored the measure to dissolve the council, said Russell's concerns raised "difficult, hypothetical situations. . . . There is no case law that says individual members can't speak." The problem crops up, he said, when some board members purport to speak for the entire group. Those comments, he said, "should only come from the chairman."
The board members said their lawyers have advised them at times not to comment on board actions, talk to reporters or communicate with constituents, often after a vote on a controversial issue.
In one instance, Russell was taken to task by the board several years ago for seeking an opinion from the Maryland attorney general's office about whether the board was acting legally when it used a particular method to calculate the assessment residents pay to the Columbia Association. There was a formal hearing, she said, which occurred behind closed doors.