CA Responds to Mailer Sent to Columbia Community

March 10, 2021

The following is a joint response from CA Board of Directors Chair Andrew Stack and CA President/CEO Milton W. Matthews:


We here at the Columbia Association (CA) have been made aware of a mailer many of you have received from a newly formed group called The Rouse Project. 


First and foremost, we want to acknowledge that we agree with many of the principles presented in the publication. We know firsthand the crucial role CA’s Board of Directors plays in strengthening the Columbia community by reaching out to and serving as many community stakeholders as possible. 


CA encourages involvement and engagement in the upcoming elections for the CA Board of Directors and village boards, whether that’s running for a position or casting a ballot. Every election is an opportunity for residents to choose the individuals who represent them, whether community-wide on the CA Board or at the village level.


That said, The Rouse Project has now targeted our community’s virtual and physical inboxes with characterizations seemingly designed to provoke rage and make it appear that CA’s leadership is determined to waste money, eliminate resources valued by the community, and downgrade your quality of life.


There is an alternate reality in which a volunteer Board of Directors – a body in which each representative is elected by their respective village – has been working hand in hand with a highly trained and experienced professional staff who manages the day-to-day operations of the organization. That collaboration remains strong, but it has been tested by one of the most complex, disruptive and impactful years most of us have lived through. There is no doubt that the past 12 months have forced most entities across all industries to make very difficult decisions. Reflection continues to provide all of us with perspective.


To be clear, CA supports the process of the village board and Columbia Council elections. However, the organization is not and has never been involved in the election proceedings. That means CA does not endorse or oppose specific candidates or interest groups. 


Still, we recognize the need to address the misinformation being spread about CA’s finances, and more so, the motivations of the organization. The CA team – staff, sitting Board members and other volunteers – cares deeply about this community and believes in our mission to engage our diverse community, cultivate a unique sense of place and enhance quality of life. CA welcomes feedback from the community, but when widespread attacks on the organization’s integrity are presented in the form of misleading information, we must provide clarification with the facts.


Team member furloughs and layoffs

During the period from April 2020 through December 2020, CA took the necessary steps to furlough or lay off more than 800 team members, including people in full-time positions. This was yet another difficult decision the organization was forced to make, but we proactively undertook a concurrent effort to bring team members back to work when restrictions were revised. That allowed us to bring approximately half of those furloughed team members back by the end of July.


Another step taken by CA to lessen the impacts on our team members was the decision in early April to pay 1,046 of our team members for four weeks (two weeks at full pay and two weeks at 75%), even when they were not working. Additional team members were able to continue their employment on workshare programs acquired by CA’s Human Resources department last year. 


As of today, there are 625 team members working for CA at full pay, and we’ll continue to build on that as capacity restrictions continue to be relaxed and revenue streams increase. That includes our ability to hire for more seasonal positions this summer.


Symphony of Lights

As we have stated before, CA has never opposed events that utilize open space in a respectful and sustainable way that’s consistent with this community’s greater mission. To imply that CA pursued legal action with the intent to “shut down Symphony of Lights” is a blatant mischaracterization.  Repeated infringements on property rights forced CA to take the legal action it is currently involved in. This is another example of this organization being villainized for taking actions to protect CA-owned land, which comes with all the responsibilities of land ownership. It is our position that emotions should not rationalize property rights violations, and the misrepresentation of CA’s legal actions is once again being weaponized to provoke anger. 


From its inception, CA has been entrusted with areas of land throughout the Columbia community. The 51 acres of Symphony Woods Park in the heart of downtown Columbia is an incredibly prized possession. CA remains committed to defending our right – and your right – to access the Park.


The Sports & Fitness budget

CA’s Department of Sports & Fitness includes:

  • 3 full-service fitness clubs (with indoor pools)
  • 5 tennis clubs
  • Columbia Swim Center
  • 23 outdoor pools (15 of which will open this summer)
  • Hobbit’s Glen Golf Course and Fairway Hills Golf Course
  • Columbia Ice Rink
  • SportsPark and SkatePark


The total operating cost for all Sports & Fitness facilities was budgeted to be about $25 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, which runs through April 30. The department is projected to generate more than $14 million in revenue over that time.


The Columbia community has always valued health and wellness, and CA has had a longstanding role in ensuring people have the resources to tap into those values at their greatest potential. These venues and programs have become integral features of this community that add to our quality of life, which is evidenced by the more than 2.2 million visits CA sees every year at its Sports & Fitness facilities (in addition to the 50,000 rounds of golf played annually on CA’s courses). 


CARES Act funding

CA is a non-profit community services corporation, designated as a 501 (c)(4) entity with the Internal Revenue Service. Under that designation, CA is generally not eligible to receive direct funding from the federal government. That includes dollars from the CARES Act.  


As the “local government” for the Columbia community, Howard County was charged with distributing CARES Act funding it received. At no point last year was CA “offered” money that it turned down. In fact, even though CA staff advocated repeatedly for the organization to receive relief funding, it wasn’t until recently that Howard County allocated about $41,000 toward our School Age Services program’s full-day child care operation. 


Focus on equity and inclusion

CA remains committed to its mission of engaging a diverse community, and that starts internally. Following a series of guided conversations and a survey among team members, a group of CA employees were selected to be part of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) committee. The committee is meeting on a regular basis to discuss these important issues and provide guidance and recommendations for the organization. Additionally, CA’s Board has proactively incorporated a goal in its strategic plan to increase participation among diverse individuals, particularly when it comes to leadership positions. Click here to see the strategic plan in its entirety. 


We’re also looking forward to the return of a fulltime International and Multicultural program manager later this year. The person hired for the job will reestablish ties with Columbia’s sister cities around the world and plan cultural events as restrictions on gatherings become more relaxed.


Quality of CA programs and facilities

Even with significant staff reductions last year, CA was able to:

  • Complete 13 different updates/projects in neighborhood and community centers across Columbia
  • Replace seven pedestrian bridges
  • Work on at least 1,800 linear feet of pathway
  • Execute necessary dredging work around Lake Elkhorn and other areas
  • Repair equipment and replenish mulch at tot lots around the entire community
  • Install four new HVAC units at the Teen Center
  • Make necessary updates at multiple Sports & Fitness facilities, including Columbia Swim Center, Fairway Hills Golf Course, outdoor tennis courts and Thunder Hill Pool
  • Work on solar paneling projects at Slayton House and Columbia Swim Center


These tasks (and more) were completed in addition to the massive undertaking of reopening a number of CA facilities. That included optimizing the air exchange in those buildings and installing 75 ultraviolet (UV) sanitizing fans to kill bacteria and viruses. Click the play button below for a short video of Energy Manager Jeremy Scharfenberg explaining how those devices work:


While finances were an obstacle, the availability of any of our programs and facilities has been intrinsically tied to health and safety guidelines and pandemic-related restrictions. That means some of the events and happenings our community looks forward to most – everything from Lakefront summer concerts and movies to childcare, open space walks, Art Center classes and more – simply could not take place. 


In short, decisions to scale back the breadth of programs were not just affected by the ongoing economic situation. Those decisions were shaped by county, state and national guidelines with the health and safety of our community as our top priority.


CA’s overall financial position

CA’s income sources, especially those outside of the annual charge, have been impacted significantly by the pandemic. That by no means indicates a lack of financial strength. CA, like entities across all industries, has encountered many challenges in the past year. This organization responded, growing in resolve to remain financially viable and sustainable and to prepare for the prolonged periods of challenging economic conditions that will likely persist.


Results of multiple third party audits show CA has maintained a solid financial position. The results of those audits are made public on our website, as well as our quarterly financial statements.


Long story short, we will always make decisions with a focus on the long term viability and relevance of this organization, which is essential if CA is to continue its invaluable role in the Columbia community and beyond. While not everyone will agree with the decisions we made over the last year, we are confident that each choice was thoughtfully analyzed and carefully considered.  


Final thoughts

We know this is a long statement in comparison to the two-sided flier many in the community received in the mail. However, the context is important and most of the numbers are just not that simple. As an organization, we invite civic participation and welcome ideas from the community. However, we have an obligation to ensure information circulating in the community is accurate.

CA encourages everyone to get involved in the upcoming elections. We hope you’ll reach out to your Board representative, village managers or CA with any questions you may have in order to make an informed decision.

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