Howard County Blog

A Blog on what is going on in Howard County

Monday, October 30, 2006

Democracy

Let us for a minute contemplate what we want in our government officials. Do we want neutered and muted followers who will sit back and observe something they see as a problem and not try to solve it or do we want elected officials who will speak up and champion what they think is best for the community and let the voters in their district decide if they are doing their job appropriately? Sadly it seems some people would rather have their elected officials mute and are trying to neuter those that are elected to serve on the Columbia Council. Two Columbia Council members who endorsed the candidate for County Executive they thought would best look out for the continuation of the Columbia dream and the needs of their constituents are being attacked for doing so. To those who are attacking these council members: Have you no shame! Just because you don’t like who these council members are endorsing, you are willing to try to mute the people whose very job is to be an advocate of the needs of their constituents and neuter one of mechanisms our community has to have our voice heard. If you don’t like what these council members did the appropriate democratic response would be to challenge them in their next election.

And let’s defang one of the straw arguments being thrown around: These council members in making this endorsement clearly stated they were doing so in their individual capacity. In no way was this any statement of an endorsement by CA. So again I say: Have you no shame!

I will also say this I will use the same passion I brought to defeating Jud Malone after he said we had to trust the developers to defeating any CA Rep who assaults the democratic process by going into closed door session to try to neuter the role of Columbia Council members as advocates for their constituents. It is not CA’s role to be used for political retribution and the decision of whether these Columbia Council members did the right thing should be left to the voters in each of these villages in the next CA elections. That is democracy.

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evan:

Perhaps its the late hour of your post, but you are clearly missing the point.

The issue is not who Ms. Russell and Ms. Coyle endorsed, its the fact that they traded on their position as CA directors to do it.

It was a conscious decision on their point. Their role as CA board members was the whole point of the endorsement -- no one would have shown up to their press conference if they weren't associated with CA.

This is not a personal attack -- this is serious business. And, CA is concerned about it -- they released a press statement on the role of their directors in political endorsements. There is also a meeting Thursday to discuss the issue.

CA is a tax-exempt organization. With its charter, it cannot claim any political affiliation or endorse any candidates. To do so could lose the organization their tax-exempt status.

Are you prepared to pay more for CA services because CA now has to pay taxes?

No one cares who the endorsement was directed to -- the issue here is an abuse of power.

This was a conscious decision on the part of Ms. Russell and Ms. Coyle. For anyone who has worked on a campaign, endorsements have to be conducted like an orchestra -- they take a while to setup, to line up the appropriate instruments and then to execute. Everyone involved had time to contemplate their actions (and even to run them past other CA directors or CA's legal staff).

These CA directors may not be happy with the fallout from their actions (and are obviously on the defensive), but their actions were carefully planned. Unfortunately, to CA's detriment.

As to the suggestion of a personal attack on Ms. Russell and Ms. Coyle, its ridiculous. The matter was brought up in a 3 minute speech during resident speakout. CA directors immediately grasped the gravity of the situation. I believe Miles Coffman said that Ms. Coyle just doesn't get it.

When you are elected as a director of a community association, you have a responsibility (no, on obligation) to fulfill those responsibilities in an ethical manner. When you are in the public eye, you have to do more than the average person to ensure your behavior and conduct is above reproach. It may be unfair to some, but its part of the job they were elected to do. We put our trust in these directors, and they let us down.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Hayduke said...

Evan, by failing to link to those asking legitimate questions about the use of a CA title while endorsing political candidates as individuals, you can paint whatever picture you want, even if it isn't true. I haven't seen anyone attacking Columbia Council members, just people wondering whether what they did falls within the code of conduct, which apparently it does.

This isn't attacking democracy anymore than the Democrats on the national level who ask questions about the Bush adminstration are attacking democracy. Nobody's voice is being silenced, nobody's being unfairly or inappropriately labled anything. Sure, they may be getting criticised, but what did they expect?

Of all the shamelessness of this election season, this is what you choose to condemn?

7:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rather than point fingers, I would like to see this situation used as a learning experience. Let CA come up with guidelines for use in an election year for its board members. The school system has such guidelines and they are updated and sent out before every election year. I don't think these two directors did anything wrong at all. Pushing it the way that some on the CA Board are doing will only hurt Ulman further. It really looks like retribution. We don't need a culture of fear and retaliation in Howard County. I urge people to stand up against it.

8:15 AM  
Anonymous hocoterp said...

Evan,

I'm not a big fan of Ken Ulman but I think you're one of the most hypocritical people out there. It is people like you that give democrats a bad name. make sure you change your registration next week.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Hayduke said...

hocoterp: That's uncalled for, and Evan and I disagree about almost everything. Like the rest of us in this election season, he's dealing with the vexing problem of how we balance our politics and our principles. In an ideal world, the two would always be the same. But this ain't no ideal world.

1:12 PM  
Anonymous David W. Keelan said...

As I wrote on my blog...

The Columbia Association's 501c4 status is not in jeopardy. The IRS code if very clear on this. If the CA was a 501c3 then a cause for concern MAY exist.

As a 501c4 and as long as the PRIMARY mission of the CA remains intact the CA could endorse Don Dunn if they wanted to and not jeopardize their 501c4. Although their Charter prohibits this the IRS does not.

Therefore, no basis exists for claiming that they put the Columbia Association at risk as far as their tax exempt status. No one is going to pay higher taxes.

What do I know about it? I set up a 501c3 and worked with my lawyer reviewing the entire 501c (H) code.

Ken and Lou Ulman set up the Ulman Cancer Foundation (or was involved at some level) - he knows the difference too. I would like to hear their opinion about this.

There is nothing in the code of conduct or in the charter that prohibits CA Directors from endorsing a candidate in a partisan campaign and using their title to do so.

Abuse of Power or Free Speech? It was a deliberate decision and they knew the risks of potential backlash - however they also understood the IRS, and Charter implications as well.

Should the Columbia Association review this. Yes, if only to reaffirm the free speech rights of their directors.

There are a lot of shameless antics underway and we may disagree as to who is responsible for most of it - however, this is a distraction.

I agree with Anon 2 - this looks like retribution to the average person (that is if they are paying attention). I know for a fact that the Baltimore Examiner is paying attention.

In any event, I was told who filed the ethics complaint. We will see if that comes out on Thursday evening. Based on who I am told filed the complaint it only makes it look like more retribution.

Among the 22 Dem/Ind that endorsed Merdon these two are not the only ones getting this kind of treatment. These 22 people are adults. They will address what they have been enduring since October 23rd shortly.

Hocoterp... never mind it isn't worth the grief.

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would the constituents of these elected officials be horrified at their endorsements? Do we expect the constituents of Allan Kittleman to be horrified of his endorsement of Fox?

Remember. These people were speaking as individuals. It was not in violation of either the tax code or the code of ethics.

Is this different than the Santos,Feldmark relationship?

How?

6:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Had Santos listed himself on Feldmark lit as a CA rep, this would have been the same.

The CA reps were listed as CA reps.

Feldmark had to step down as CA pres for the appearance. Why would these people not care now?

6:36 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

Barbara Russell and Cindy Coyle were not trading on their position. They are elected officials in a semi-governmental organization that administers Maryland’s second largest city after Baltimore. This issue is about whether elected officials are going to be intimidated from speaking up for the community. It has nothing to do with who was endorsed. I would be doing the same thing if Ulman was being attacked for endorsing Feldmark. This is about fundamental principles of democracy. Too often those who do not want the community voice heard will try to claim that elected officials cannot do this or that. This is a particularly classic tool of bureaucracies to silence elected representatives. Elected officials report to those who elect them and their freedom of speech and advocacy is absolute. Anything that gets in the way of this is an assault on democracy.

Oh, and as noted by David Keelan: Columbia Association is a 501(c)(4) which means that it is not politically muted. The law is very clear! What Cindy and Barbara did was perfectly legal.

And let’s throw out that abuse of power canard. It is their job to speak up for the concerns of their constituents. They are elected officials! Speaking out is one of the powers that comes with the job, though frankly it is offensive to say that any persons speech is squashed.

And HayDuke, I read about this on Keelan’s blog and linked to the discussion over there and that discussion has both sides represented. I didn’t know about Bill Santos’s post on his blog until later. For what its worth I still am not going to post a link to it because his info on 501(c)(4)’s is flat out wrong. And let me also say that threatening someone by falsely saying they broke codes of conduct rules is an attack. A very malicious attack in fact because it is spreading false information with the intent to intimidate. I choose to highlight this issue because I have seen it again and again where bureaucracies try silence elected officials.

HoCoTerp, as a fellow Terp I kindly ask: how am I hypocritical?

8:12 AM  
Anonymous hayduke said...

But, Evan, they're not speaking out for their community. They're speaking out for themselves. If this was an issue where they thought the views of their community were not being adequately represented, speaking out as board members would be completely fine. Instead, these are political endorsements, and the communities they represent will have ample opportunity to express how they feel about this stuff on Tuesday.

We can disagree on how much this distinction matters but I don't think one can argue whether the distinction exists.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

HayDuke, I am not sure why you are not getting this, but they were advocating for what they thought was best for the community. Whether you agree with them or not, they thought that Chris Merdon would be better for the county and by their endorsement were saying that. An elected official can take an action as an individual and have it motivated by what they think is best for the community. This election will have a major impact on the future of Columbia and voters are entitled to know what other elected officials think.

1:05 AM  
Blogger Hayduke said...

Evan, you've changed your argument from:

A. They were speaking up for their community -- as in, giving voice to those who's voices have not been heard.

To...

B. The were speaking about what they think is best for their community.

These are two different things. "A" is a community service. "B" is a personal decision they wish to share with the community.

Am I wrong?

9:53 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

I think it can be both at the same time: They thought it was best for the community and at the same time they had been hearing from constituents and they thought their constituents were right and they should be advocates.

Things don't have to be either or.

3:52 PM  

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