25 October 2006

Columbia Association for Merdon?

I cannot recall when 20% of the CA Board of Directors endorsed a candidate for County Executive . I have thought that the overt endorsement of county candidates by the CA board, or its members, was just not done. In fact, the IRS has this to say about 501(c)(4) Social Welfare Organizations (which CA is):

The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect
participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in
opposition to any candidate for public office.

But now CA Baord Members Cynthia Coyle and Barbara Russell have thrown this in the trash. Did the good people of Harper’s Choice and Oakland Mills expect an endorsement from these board members? Can we expect Chris Merdon to reciprocate this spring, when they are up for election?

Yes, (a portion of ) the CA Board of Directors are elected each spring, but it used to be that the elections centered on issues. I am concerned that Cynthia and Barbara might have thrown the CA Board, and the election of such, into partisan politics.


wordbones said...

The folks in Oakland Mills would do well to rise up against their CC representative. I can only hope that someone will step up to plate and challenge her when her current term expires.

Unfortunately that will probably not happen given the history of participation in Council and Village Board elections throughout Columbia.

An endorsement by Barbara Russell is as good a reason as any to vote for the other guy!

Just my opinion of course...

David W. Keelan said...


Coile and Russell (as well as the 18 others) made it clear that their endorsements were personal in nature and not on behalf of the organizations they represent.

I quote from the press release:

We are here as individual voters, nearly all registered Democrats or Independents, to affirm that we strongly support Chris Merdon, Republican, for Howard County Executive.


B. Santos said...


Then how come your post, the Examinier, and everyone else keep talking about Cindy and Barbara as board members? How come at the lectern, Cindy relates her board experience? Seems the statement at the press event was summarily dismissed by all that covered the event. No one has stated that Cindy or Angie, or Harry, or Cathy support Merdon, all their titles are used, and used for effect.

David W. Keelan said...


I posted the press release unedited as sent to me and Hayduke.

As far as my blog is concerned: The press release points them out as board members. I didn't write it. I just copied and pasted it. It only mentions their positions once. I didn't harp on the fact.

I can't speak for them. All I am saying is that these people made individual endorsements. By doing so they risked a great deal of backlash from their fellow party members. If enough people feel the same way you and Word feel then maybe they will lose their positions - the people in Columbia will make that decision. I think they understood that when they made their endorsements.

Aside from Russell and Coile. How do you and Word feel about the 15 other democrats and 3 independents supporting Merdon?

wordbones said...


I don't know most of them but I do know Alec Adams and Vivian Bailey.

Alec fits nicely into the Beltram brigade. He has been tilting at windmills (the Plaza building providing a nice metaphor here) on local development issues for years. I happen to like Alec as a person but I find his causes misguided.

Vivian Bailey has been a strong advocate for the children at Running Brook Elementary school for years and that I find admirable. Something happened between her and Ken that soured that relationship so her support of Chris does not surprise me.

As to others...I really don't know them so I won't comment (which is hard for me).

B. Santos said...


My deepest apologies regarding the press release. I was unaware that it was not your writing. I am first and most often to admit I am an idiot at times.

However, with the knowledge that the content on your blog was vetted by the group present at the people tree, the endorsement by Ms Coyle and Ms Russell is even more damning.

The issue I have is not so much Cindy and Barbara, it is with their position with the Columbia Association. To use the Director title in a press release implies CA does not object to the endorsement. Let’s not mince words here about CA. It is a $50M organization that has been allowed to tax its residents and its mission has been defined (at times) as to provide “those services not provided by the county.” Given this position, I think it is highly inappropriate for CA Board members to endorse candidates for county positions and state that they are board members.

Keep in mind that both parts of that sentence must be true for me to waive a flag. If Cindy and Barbara had been listed as “democratic activists,” a popular title in the press release, I would have been fine with it. A good case in point (and I am not 100% on this, but awfully sure) is Rebecca Johnson. I believe Ms. Johnson is a member of the Harper’s Choice Village Board, but she identified herself as a member of the Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown. Very smart Ms. Johnson!

As for the others on the list. I have no real axe to grind. Most did take the (in my opinion) appropriate approach: attorney, activist, farmer, etc…

Anonymous said...

It was inappropriate for Barbara and Cindy to use their CA titles. If they want to support anyone as individuals, that's their prerogative. But once they use their title, they are bringing CA and their villages into partisan politics. And my guess is that they didn't vet this with their villages or with CA.

B. Santos said...

I completely agree.

Hayduke said...

I hadn't thought about this at all, Bill, but after reading what you wrote, I agree with you. But CA reps have for some time been using the publicity afforded to them by their positions for personal (or political) reasons.

As for Russell, I mostly agree with Wordbones insofar as it might be time for new CA representation from Oakland Mills. She's been on the board for a while and it might be time for a new face for the village.

Anonymous said...

So, Hayduke, are you willing to run?

haydukke said...

Let's not get carried away here...

Anonymous said...

I agree - Board members should only endorse people in their private capacity. But maybe this says something about how bad Ulman is? I mean, let's face it - Merdon got endorsed by all 3 area publications. I haven't met a single Howard County Democrat who will tell me Ulman is a strong candidate.

David W. Keelan said...


I can be an idiot too. Sometimes worse.

In this case no recriminations are warranted. I don't think you were being nasty or defamatory. Just an honest mistake.


Anonymous said...

This attack on Ms. Russell and Ms. Coyle is nothing more than a sign of desperation on the part of the Ulman campaign. While the CA Board as a whole is clearly prohibited from endorsing political candidates, CA guidelines specifically encourage individual members to support candidates according to their conscience.

What is unethical is the attempt by Mr. Santos to try to intimidate Ms. Russell and Ms. Coyle into hiding their connection with the CA Board. The public is entitled to know this information, in the same way that the public is entitled to information on campaign donations and potential conflicts of interest.

If someone running for political office has a connection with the CA Board, the public should be told about it. When Josh Feldmark ran for County Council, his campaign literature prominently featured his CA Board chairmanship - as it should have. I didn't hear Mr. Santos complaining about that. Likewise, the connections of someone making a political endorsement should also be available to the public.

Anonymous said...

These endorsements say more about the endorsers and Chris Merdon than Ken Ulman.

First, if they are Democrats, from now on they will be known as alledged and erstwhile Democrats.
Two, if they did not intend to associate their organizations with their endorsement, Merdon certainly did. He may have been overwhelmed with gratitude at the People Tree but he got over it. The following are exactly as listed on his website. To me this looks about as official as it gets.

Barbara Russell - Director, Columbia Association Board
Cynthia Coile - Director, Columbia Association Board
Rebecca Johnson - Member of Coalition for Columbia’s Downtown; Member of Harper’s Choice Village Board
Ann Jones - Environmentalist and VP of the Howard County Conservancy
Mary Catherine Cochran - President Preservation Howard County

Merdon must have known the backlash this would cause, but hey - they're only Democrats.

Anonymous said...

In Columbia, the New Town, the town of hope, the hotbed of Democratic activism and equal rights for all, the leader in the geographic region for tolerance and respect for others, the home of late night debates between sides that went on and on and on till 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, the place were freedom of speech is exalted, the place that takes as its symbol the "people tree" - how ironic that it is working so hard to silence the voices of a long time community activists. The Columbians and Democrats I knew- once upon a time- would be fighting vigorously to promote diversity of opinion and throughtful debate. Did General Growth take your soul, too?

Anonymous said...

Personally I think these "activists" ought to be able to speak out as often and loudly as they wish and their other official responsibilities ought not be any impediment, but let's get real, they are using their status as board members, vice presidents and presidents of supposedly non-partisian organizations as a bully pulpit. No one is trying to silence them but they should make it clear that they are speaking for themselves and in my opinion they did not.

Anonymous said...

The press release made it very clear that they were speaking as individuals. The titles were assigned as a way to identify the participants to the press. This one is a Columbia person, this one is an environment person, this one is a farmer, a lawyer, etc. The point was that it was a wide cross section of people that supported Chris. There was no grassy knoll.

Anonymous said...

We stand beneath the Tree of Life, more commonly known to most of us as the People Tree. It is a fitting place for our announcement today symbolizing as it does, the power of individual citizens working together to create a true community. We are here as individual voters, nearly all registered Democrats or Independents, to affirm that we strongly support Chris Merdon, Republican, for Howard County Executive. We believe that he has the experience and temperament necessary to lead us into the next General Plan and that he will build a government that- in the words of Abraham Lincoln- is of the people, by the people and for the people.

SF Hunt said...

Well, well.... looks like our man Bill is now famous. Check out the Howard County section of the Baltimore Sun online. Don't know if it made the printed version.


Looks like CA is going to have a "meeting" on Thursday to figure out what to do, but Tom O'Conner is already indicating that removal won't happen. At lease Russel and Coyle will have to answer for themselves.

Evan said...

Answer for what. What Russell and Coyle did was both perfectly legal and ethical. That is an undeniable fact. Keelan's blog already answered that.

David W. Keelan said...

Support Freedom of speech. One's title should not be a muffler.

I have faith that CA will stand on the side of free speech.

They acted appropriately in all facets of their endorsement.

If the CA wants to they can endorse anyone they want to without violating IRS 501c4.

Bill, I don't think you did Ken any favors.

B. Santos said...


To be perfectly honest, Ken had nothing to do with my appearance before the CA Board last week. As a lien-payer in Columbia, I felt strongly enough about this to go to resident speakout. I stated my concerns and asked the board to investigate. How Ken Ulman gets into this is beyond my comprehension. I suppose that this has carried on does not help Ken, but my intention never was to help or hurt Ken. In fact, because this issue is about the actions of members of a private corporation, I didn't think Ken, or Chris for that matter, would be discussed.

Anonymous said...

From the Keelan site:

When the meeting opened the Board read an opinion from the CA lawyer who assured the board that their 501c4 status was never in jeopardy.

B. Santos - If you felt so strongly about this, why did you not attend the meeting?

David W. Keelan said...


I don't think this was about Ken at all. I don't think you did this for Ken or were acting as a surragate.

I think other people's perceptions might think it was retribution.

This was my first CA board meeting. For the entertainment value you can't beat the price.

Anonymous said...

As election emotions rise to a fever pitch, I think we may all find it restorative to stop what we're doing for 2 minutes and read this.

Diana Butler Bass: 'What if the Amish were in charge of the war on terror?'

Let's all remember what we're here for and get back to working toward our common goals.

Anonymous said...

This is from Phil Wright. I do not feel the need to sign up for this blog


I am angered by your actions regarding this matter. They were reckless and reprehensible!

Instead of researching the facts regarding CA's current policy on endorsements, or looking up current IRS guidelines regarding 501(c)(4)corporations, you went into a public meeting and leveled accusations that put into question the integrity and good names of two hard-working CA Board of Directors. Shame on you!!!!

Ms. Coyle and Ms. Russell exercised their personal rights when they stepped forward with their personal endorsements of Mr. Merdon.

The evidence has vendicated Cindy and Barbara!

Both ladies acted in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Columbia Association and the Internal Revenue Service.

As a resident of Columbia and a lien payer I feel that a tally of the time and dollars spent on this matter should be compiled, and that you should receive a special assessment at the end of the year for the total bill.

Might I suggest that the next time you feel the need to level accusations against another individual, that you do your homework first!

Below are the guidelines pulled from CA's Team Member Handbook and the IRS website on this matter....information you could have easily unearthed had you taken the time to do so!

Again, shame on you!!!

Phil Wright

6.14 Political Campaigns

Team members are encouraged to follow their consciences and to support and vote for the political candidates of their choice. In no way, however, should the activities of any individual team member be performed in such a way as to indicate that the Columbia Association supports a specific candidate. For example, no team member may use

Columbia Association stationary, envelopes, postage, telephones, etc., on behalf of a political candidate. All political activities must be carried out on a strictly personal basis and supported only by personal resources.

(from page 29 of the CA Team Member Handbook, May 2005 revision)

“501c4 organization may participate in lawful political campaign activities involving the nomination or election of public officials without adversely affecting its exempt status provided such activities are insubstantial in relation to its overall activities.”

Anonymous said...

This is Rebecca Johnson, one of the signers of the Democrats and Independents for Merdon ad. I'd like to make a couple of factual corrections to Anonymous's Oct. 30 post.


Correction #1: "alleged and erstwhile Democrat"

Actually, I'm a real Democrat. I've been very active Democrat for over 35 years. In 1972, I managed my college campus's campaign for McGovern. Many intervening activities since then. Fast forward to 2004, when I traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, to work for ACT on behalf of the full Democratic ticket and for the nonpartisan group Election Protection. This year I am *actively supporting* O'Malley, Cardin, and some Howard County Democratic candidates (in addition to voting for most of them).

I sure hope the Dems don't kick me out - I think I've been pretty useful to them.


Correction #2: "Merdon must have known the backlash this would cause, but hey - they're only Democrats."

Chris, as well as his campaign manager and another top campaign staffer, attended the full CA hearing. They did not speak, or wear T-shirts, or otherwise call attention to themselves. They simply sat in silent support of those who had stuck their necks out for Chris.

After the meeting, Chris issued a written statement:

November 2, 2006

"Barbara Russell and Cynthia Coyle are pillars of the Columbia community and models of integrity. I was humbled by their expression of support for me. At the time, I said it took great courage. Having seen how poorly they've been treated since then, I am even more respectful of the risk they took on my behalf.

In the end, I am confident that the Columbia Association Board of Directors will move quickly to affirm their right to free speech."

Christopher J. Merdon


Thank you all for reading this.


Rebecca Johnson, Democrat*

*I am speaking as an individual. My views as expressed here are not intended to reflect those of the entire Democratic party.