Monday, March 8, 2021

"I am listening."


One of my husband's and my favorite blasts from the past is to watch reruns of the sitcom "Fraiser" that aired from 1993 through 2004. The main character, Fraiser Crane, was a psychiatrist turned radio talk show host that greeted each caller with "I am listening." And today, "I am listening," and the silence is frightening. 

Hate crimes and attacks against Asian and Asian Americans have increase in the year following the COVID-19 outbreak throughout the United States. Recently, on the eve of the Lunar New Year, several Asian owned restaurants were the victims of burglary and vandalism.  Racially targeted crimes of this type has wreaked havoc on the livelihoods of  these Asian-American business owners, causing suffering to their families and children. 

 Instances of verbal harassment targeting Asian Americans have occurred from coast to coast. On Thursday evening during the Howard County Racial Equity Task Force public hearing, comments by Aday Salein were racial charged and attacked the Chinese, Korean, and Latino Communities. This behavior dehumanizes our Latino,  Asian, and Asian-American neighbors and friends. Studies have established a correlation between exposure to hate speech and the number of hate crimes committed. There are real life consequences to the rhetoric of hatred that must be addressed by our community leaders-elected officials, religious leaders, and leaders without a title.   

Now more than ever, it is important that we connect with those around us in a safe way, that we embrace our common humanity with compassion, rather than feeling isolated and disconnected, that we begin a discussion about our imperfect selves. Who will be the first amongst us to have the courage to say, "I am listening." 



Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Adoption of the CA FY 2022 Budget `

The Columbia Association (CA) board of Directors has significant power and responsibility for distributing our annual assessment for the benefit of open space, village associations, and community amenities-neighborhood centers, outdoor pools, and playgrounds. It is within this context that the Board should evaluate its budgeting process and set CA on a trajectory of informed decision making by collaborating with Columbia residents and village associations during all phases of the budgeting process. Effectively, the residents, villages, and Board of Directors should communicate its budgeting priorities to the Senior Leadership Team to be compiled into a budget document.

The Board reviewed the FY 2022 Operating and Capital Budget, as presented by the Senior Leadership Team, and after several meetings, the Board only agreed to amend the budget by $8,000.  Budgets are much more than just numbers, and my budget vote against the Senior Leadership Proposal was not about the dollars and cents, it was about public values. 

CA should recommit itself to investing in and revitalizing our shared community facilities-outdoor pools, neighborhood centers, and playgrounds. No longer should these amenities be stripped of the funding necessary to maintain their structural integrity to apply our assessment dollars to finance the losses in the Sports and Fitness Division, estimated to be $11.3 million in FY 2021 and budgeted to be $12.5 million in FY 2022. Losses of this magnitude are not sustainable over the long term and require the attention of the Board of Directors. 

Lastly, the Board of Directors should seek to develop effective strategic partnerships with Howard County, the State of Maryland, and private foundations to improve community programming, better protect our open space, and manage our watershed areas. Further, the Board should establish a transparent and inclusive process to study each of these concerns and foster the vibrant multigenerational community that is Columbia. 

I will be discussing many of these concepts over the next several blog posts to better inform the residents of the financial position of CA.  



Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Kaleidoscope That is Columbia

Columbia is a vibrant kaleidoscope of multi-generational cultures and ethnicities and will be stronger if we work together to meet the needs of our community, While the quality of life is generally positive, there are disparities between various villages, neighborhoods, and families. Columbia Association (CA) should be committed to serving as the catalyst to unite its stakeholders. CA can accomplish this by creating a collaborative spirit that fosters strong relationships with the villages and state/local governments. Further, CA should invest the annual charge it receives from property owners to enhance the Open Space, and to provide recreational/community programing for a greater number of our neighbors and friends, especially children and teens.

 The CA Board members should ask questions. Board members should ask powerful and inspiring questions for which they don't know the answers and solicit the assistance of community leaders. To be clear, leaders should ask questions that invite our neighbors and community leaders to come together to explore new opportunities that Senior Leadership hasn't yet identified. Here are some examples:

  • What is a game-changing opportunity that could create more value for residents than we have delivered in the past?
  • What are the unmet needs of our villages, residents, and businesses that could provide for an entirely new service?
  •  How can CA leverage the resources of federal, state, and local governments to address a broader range of services for our residents and businesses.
  • How can we harness technology to create more visibility with our residents, businesses, and villages; giving them information on facilities and services to deliver more value and deepen trust with these same stakeholders?  
These questions should invite collaboration. To make the most of them, the questions should not be asked in closed board meetings. Instead, the questions should be asked throughout CA, the Village Associations, and other community leaders. Questioning should be amplified by the use of our website and social media. Reaching out beyond the Board of Directors and the Senior Leadership Team to connect with expertise and perspectives from a broader audience of more diverse sources will help us transform our programming faster. Encouraging participation in the governance process will contribute to a culture of seizing new opportunities and insights to address the challenges of today and  in the future. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Columbia is About Community, Not Business

CA Staff Proposed FY 2022 Budget

Have Questions?
Want to participate?
Suggestions or ideas?

I am listening. Attend the River Hill Virtual Town Hall on Tuesday, January 12th at 7pm. 

Columbia Association Staff Proposed Budget for FY 2022 was made available to the public and Board of Directors on Friday, January 8th. This is day four of the CA FY 2022 Budget Timeline. On Tuesday, January 12th I will be hosting a virtual town hall with the residents of Columbia to listen to inform you of the budget process and listen to your concerns. Plan to attend and contribute to the process, it is your assessment and your voice counts.  

Topic: River Hill Virtual Town Hall
Time: Jan 12, 2021 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 815 6668 0043
Passcode: 826992
One tap mobile
+13017158592,,81566680043#,,,,*826992# US (Washington D.C)
+19292056099,,81566680043#,,,,*826992# US (New York)

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Change to the nth Degree



Columbia Association (CA) is experiencing a year of transition and disruption. Simultaneously, the community, while still educating their children from home, is undergoing rapid multi-structural change that has accelerated to the nth degree. Understandably, CA has struggled to address the multiple, often overlapping crises that have unfolded at warp speed.

Although many in leadership positions would like to think of the COVID-19 crisis as an aberration, it may not be. CA's building of a Sports and Fitness Business model created a different reality. In this new reality, village association funding has been squeezed and many on the senior leadership team have encouraged the closing of neighborhood centers, tot lots, and outdoor pools. These are the very assets that create public value for this community. I have too much respect for our village associations and my neighbors to support these policies. COVID-19 may have introduced a "new normal," "change to the nth degree". 

Effective leadership will be defined by the ability to navigate this phenomenon, not binary thinking (yes/no, good/bad, start/finish). While binary thinking feels safe, and many believe that things happen in a linear, orderly fashion, this is not how the world works. CA should not attempt to project its past business model into the future as it exposes a fundamental error, binary thinking. In CA's case, a binary approach pits the current Sport and Fitness Division business model versus a public values model. The current model cannot adapt to the exponential challenges facing our community. The community must work towards a shared purpose and common values. No longer should it be acceptable to "assess" the residents at an average annual rate of $1,030 per residential property to support the losses of the Sports and Fitness Division. The actual and projected losses for FY 2017 through FY 2021 will total $41.7 million, which is more than the projected $40 million residential and commercial assessment revenue combined for FY 2021. Looking at CA's operations through the lens of common values does not mean close the Sports and Fitness Division. Rather we must in real time analyze and adapt the Sports and Fitness Division to become more sustainable and based on public value. Success will be the culmination of dozens of small projects coming together over time. The decisions will never be easy. They will involve trade-offs and risks. Success will be messy, as it will unfold publicly in a world of exponential challenges. Success will involve unleashing the leadership abilities of each of the members of the CA's Board of Directors and building trust throughout the community by exhibiting openness and transparency.   

I will be hosting a virtual town hall to discuss the Proposed CA FY 2022 Operating and Capital Budgets on January 12, 2021 at 7pm. An email link will be sent out during the first week in January. Residents are encouraged to attend and participate.     


Sunday, November 8, 2020

Aren't They Adorable?


As a young parent, I was blessed with the opportunity to spend vacations on the Island of Nantucket. During these summer trips, my family enjoyed time on Jettie's Beach (a public beach in the Nantucket Islands Land Bank) playing in the sand and reading "To Market, To Market" and "Where the Wild Things Are." While I am sure many of you don't remember these classics, they will live in my heart for ever. But, the best part of the vacation happened at sunset. The public beach was transformed into an amphitheater as hundreds of people gathered with their families to enjoy an evening of listening to the Boston Pops perform the 1812 Overture. The finale was grand as fireworks danced over the water to light the night sky, thrilling my children and forever immersing them in the arts. 

And then there is Columbia. We don't have a beach, but we do have fifty plus acres in downtown Columbia known as Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, home of the Chrysalis. The Chrysalis, a 5,000 square foot performing arts theatre, is a stunning work of futuristic urban art that soars sixty feet into the air with lawn seating. The venue has brought the "arts, culture, and community" together with children's programing that includes "Milkshake! Trio," Sonia De Los Santos, and Beat Bugs: A Musical Adventure.  

And, the leadership of the Inner Arbor Trust (IAT) have become the visionaries of the park. Nina Basu, President and CEO of the IAT, collaborated with the Board of Directors to bring together a Stakeholder Advisory Committee consisting of residents and institutional stakeholders to create a unique "art park" for all ages. The Committee and the Design team were tasked with "respecting and enhancing the existing natural woodland and creek character of the park without overcrowding the park." The example below is just one example of the proposed park enhancements, but it is a shining example of a new and unique amenity to enhance the natural beauty of the park.  

   Preserving a treasure such as the "arts park" by CA transferring ownership into a land bank or trust could also open the door to federal, state, and private grant funding not currently available. Securing these assets for future generations, in light of possible "repeal and replace" of NT Zoning (which protects our open space) by Howard County should be a strategic priority for CA as it advances itself as a leader in environmental sustainability in Maryland.     

Friday, October 30, 2020

And, the Ground Continues to Shift

 As a child, I spent holidays and vacation time in the New England area, visiting Cape Cod and the Islands of Nantucket. During my youth, Nantucket Island had little development and the beaches were amazingly pristine. I spent summers collecting seashells, reading about whaling, and participating in Maria Mitchell Association science research. Later, I was married at Brant Point Light House, barefoot and happy. But, as with Columbia, the ground had started shifting on the Island. Tourists had discovered the treasure that is Nantucket, and with them came residential and commercial development. Town leaders engaged the voters of Nantucket to establish the first of its kind in the nation, Nantucket Islands Land Bank, to acquire land for the benefit of the public in perpetuity. The Land Bank legislation created an quasigovernmental program designed to hold and manage important open spaces for conservation and recreational purposes in perpetuity.  Other Land Banks have been inspired by the Nantucket Islands Land Bank, including the Cape Cod Land Bank and the Block Island Land Trust.  But this was only the beginning of the story, Nantucket cultivated a team effort to protect, educate, and preserve its fragile ecosystem. Additional conservancy groups were established in a collaborative effort to protect the wildlife habitats, educate their youth, and raise public awareness.   

The time has come for Columbia Association (CA) to become the visionaries that Jim Rouse modeled during the 1960s when he proposed a "balanced, planned community" that would "fit naturally into the Howard County landscape, preserving the stream valleys, protecting hills and forests, and providing parks and greenbelts." CA has established a Climate Change & Sustainability Committee and Watershed Advisory Committee to advise the Board of Directors and staff on approximately 3,600 acres of open space, numerous ponds, golf courses, and lakes. Columbia is fortunate in that it has attracted passionate environmentalists who have contributed their time and talents to these committees.

And, then there is today, COVID-19 has caused financial stress for CA and the possible elimination of New Town zoning  is being discussed by the Howard County Department of Planning & Zoning and consultants during the HoCo by Design (master plan) effort. (New Town Zoning is the Howard County legislation that required CA maintain a certain amount of open space.) The Nature Conservancy says, "How we choose to live with nature will determine our future." I would like to offer the following, "Protecting and conserving the land, streams, and lakes through changing the legal structures that preserve these natural resources in perpetuity is essential." Revisions to the legal structure of CA's open space/land ownership (only) is essential to the future of open space and could enable CA to apply for federal, state, and private grant money. Nantucket is the guide, but other models are also available; Nature Conservancy, Sate of Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and private land trusts. The Community must find its voice. Whether COVID-19 is truly an inflection point for CA corporate governance is yet to be seen, but there is no doubt that the pandemic has challenged the core premises of our model of governance, and the Board of Directors should take an active role in ensuring that there is a more sustainable vision for ensuring the future of our natural resources.  


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