23 April 2010

Election Correction

For the last five years, the CA/Village Board elections in Wilde Lake have been what could be politely termed, a “spirited” event.  In recent years Wilde Lake residents have seen campaign literature dropped on their doorsteps and arrive in their mailboxes.  Prominent officials elected to state office have sent emails, dropped personal notes on doors, and personally called residents.  And this year, we have seen yard signs popping up around the neighborhood.

phil sign

linda sign

With this as a backdrop, we find in Thursday’s Columbia Flier a few letters to the editor endorsing either Phil Kirsch or Linda Odum in this year’s race for Wilde Lake Columbia Council Representative.  These letters are often written by well meaning residents moved enough by the election issues to publicly espouse their support for one candidate or another.  Sometimes the letters portray the stance of a candidate in a negative light (as compared to the candidate of their choice).  For example, Wilde Lake resident Joyce Ardo takes incumbent Phil Kirsch to task regarding shoreline erosion on Wilde Lake.   However, those letters encouraging support for Phil Kirsch, published less than 100 hours before the polls open, raise some concerns.


Wilde Lake resident Ethel Hill authored the first letter of concern.  Ethel is a long tenured Wilde Lake resident and has a long history of public involvement.  She has served on many boards and is a former Wilde Lake Village Board Chair.  Her dedication to the community is well known and stands above most.  We are lucky to have people like Ethel living in Wilde Lake. 

For many years, Ethel Hill has advocated for the Columbia Association to institute a Montgomery Village style leaf collection program.  Ms. Hill believes this would benefit all Columbia residents, and in particular those residents that choose to age in place.  Under this program, residents would push fallen leaves into the street and have the Columbia Association collect the leaves for disposal. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I first became aware of Ethel Hill’s leaf collection idea in 2007.  In that year, I ran against Phil Kirsch for the Wilde Lake Columbia Council Representative position.  That spring Ethel penned a Columbia Flier letter to the editor that stated (in part):

For instance, some of the CA assessment could be used to provide sidewalk snow-removal services instead of opting to spend enormous sums to compete with better-positioned privately owned health clubs. For another, why not contract for leaf pickup, requiring only that residents sweep leaves to the sidewalk rather than bearing the onerous or impossible task (for some) of either bagging leaves or having the expense of paying someone to do it.

Three years later, her concerns still not addressed, Ethel Hill attended the Wilde Lake Candidates Night to again put the question to both Columbia Council Representative candidates.  Phil Kirsch, now addressing the question for the second time, expressed concern for Ethel’s plight and recalled a time when he was president of a group of single family homes in Bryant Woods.  He went on to say that by representing several houses in the community, he was able to obtain a favorable rate for leaf removal from a landscaping company.  Linda Odum responded by stating that there might be a greener, earth-friendly solution in that residents could, in cooperation with the county, establish leaf composting on their property; thereby eliminating the time and expense of bagging the leaves and also providing a source of nutrient rich compost product to be used by the property owner to fertilize existing shrubs and trees.

In her letter to the editor, Ethel recounts the exchange as follows:

Unfortunately, however, the Columbia Association remains stuck on attracting and providing for the interests and needs of younger residents and are ignoring quality-of-life issues important to "seasoned" people, especially those of us who are homeowners.
If you suspect there is a bee in my bonnet, you are absolutely right. One of them is the huge cost we incur for leaf removal alone. The least residents should be able to expect for the lien assessment we pay is a system whereby the leaves can be raked to the sidewalk for pickup. This is how it's done in Montgomery Village. If CA would behave like the homeowner's association it is intended to be, perhaps it wouldn't be so difficult to identify the resources to fund such relief.
When I raised this issue with Linda Odum, Phil's opponent in the race, she basically ignored my concern by responding that we should fix up our houses to sell because lots of young families are interested in buying them. Linda, I don't want to move!

I cannot in my mind reconcile how Ms. Hill leapt from “composting” to “fix up our houses to sell because lots of young families are interested in buying them.”  In the end, I appreciate that Ethel Hill took the time to write a letter to the editor.  It speaks to the resident-based activism that is alive and well in Wilde Lake.  With respect to the content, I am saddened that Ethel missed the point of Linda’s response.


In a second letter to the editor, Wilde Lake resident Valerie Montague Gonlin also endorses Phil Kirsch.  Valerie is also a well-respected member community.  She has been active in the Downtown Columbia discussion and is the former President of the Wilde Lake High School PTSA.  As with other letters to the editor, Valerie builds the case for Phil Kirsch with supportive statements.  Toward the end of the letter, Valerie states:

Phil is a low-key, pragmatic leader who works steadfastly on our behalf, even in the face of criticism from some with vested interests. He made sure CA adopted a plan that will protect Symphony Woods and ensure that Columbia has a community park that is an attractive year-round gathering place. In contrast, his opponent has called for high-rises in that space.

Once again, the comments regarding Phil’s opponent are inconsistent with the record.  I have never heard anyone say that they wanted high-rise buildings in Symphony Woods.  I am pretty sure there is 100% opposition to high-rise buildings in Symphony Woods.  Moreover, no one has ever suggested high-rises in Symphony Woods, until Valerie suggested it.

Like Ethel Hill, it is great to hear Valerie’s voice this election season.  However, to include statements that were never made, and attributing them to Linda Odum is wrong.  It is my hope that Valerie will submit another letter to the editor stating that she had bad information and did not have the time to check it out before making outrageous statements.

As many of the Compass faithful know, I am currently a member of the Wilde Lake Village Board, and I am a candidate to be on next year’s board.  If you scroll way, way, way down to the bottom of the blog, you will find my disclaimer.  Over the years, I have made a conscientious effort to keep Wilde Lake business off of these pages.  In the end, I think both Linda and Phil care deeply about Wilde Lake and Columbia, and I look forward to working with the election winner.

What brought me to write this blog post, at this time, was that I felt it was unfair to attribute statements that were never said.  One of the key factors for me was I asked myself, “Would I write this post if these types of letters were written about people in another village election?”  My answer to that is unequivocally “Yes.”  The fact that I know all the people involved in this post makes it difficult, and painful.

It is up to the Wilde Lake electorate to find the differences in these two candidates and make an educated decision based on what was actually said by the candidates.  It is my hope that this blog post will help clear the air so that can happen.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Bill.

But do you really think that the letter writers understand their factual mistatements? Or do you think that they were merly engaging is typical election-time fiction?

Advocacy is one thing. Purposefully making a mistatement to win a point is another. Thank you, Bill, for taking the time to set the record straight.

Perhaps it is time for Phil Kirsch to stand up and straighten the record too?

Anonymous said...

Odum said it (re the high rises). It is in the public record.

So, unfortunately, Bill, you have set the record wrong.

B. Santos said...

Anon 9:16,

Please provide a source. It would be helpful.

Anonymous said...

January 28, 2010 - Letter from Odum to Flier: "I object to the building-height restrictions for Symphony Woods, where signature buildings could anchor the cultural center...while saving...space"

"Signature buildings" that save space means tall buildings, otherwise, there is no signature to the building and no space saved.

B. Santos said...

Anon 18:56,

I fear that we may find ourselves in a stalemate. I appreciate your sourcing Ms. Odum's letter to the editor (Columbia Flier, Council's Hard Work Energizes Columbia's Moribund Downtown); however, the ellipsis provided omits salient points so large as to completely misconstrue the point of the author.

A careful reading of the letter shows in the first paragraph an unqualified endorsement of CB-58 as amended - "Council bills 58 and 59, as amended, should be swiftly approved and the development process begun." One of the amendments to CB-58, Amendment 14, specifically amends the maximum building heights in downtown Columbia. This revised chart shows a maximum building height in Symphony Woods of 4 stories or 60 feet. Clearly far below any possible definition of high rise.

I cannot speak to the intent of the sentence that you re-crafted in your comment, but reading the sentence in its original entirety, I get the impression that Ms. Odum was speaking to further reductions in building heights than those proposed in Amendment 14 (in other words, 1 or 2 story maximum building heights).

I also respectfully question your assertion that "signature buildings that save space" are necessarily "tall buildings" or "high rises."

First, let's all agree that the domain of signature buildings is highly subjective. However, I believe the New York Public Library is a signature building (and adjacent to a great park space). I believe the Rouse Headquarters is a signature building (also adjacent to a great park space). I can go on, but even in the subjective world of signature buildings, lets agree that there are plenty of examples of signature buildings that are far below the "high rise" or "tall building" requirement you impose.

Based on the points above, I cannot agree that your citation is anything near evidence of Ms. Odum calling for "high rises" in Symphony Woods.

As I said at the beginning, we may be at a stalemate.