`Good Guy' At Helm Has His Critics

Some Think Council, Not Kennedy, Should Be At `Top Of The Mountain'

April 27, 1997|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

When Columbia Association staff members were asked to buy another sailboat for its summer camps, the written justification cut right to the point: "per Mr. Kennedy."

After all, who knows more about the huge homeowners association than Padraic M. Kennedy, 63, the CA's president for the past 25 years? He has been called the unofficial mayor of the planned community of 85,000 residents, one of the largest population centers in Maryland.

"Pat is the consummate politician and diplomat," says Rob Goldman, a CA vice president. "You want a mayor who can ingratiate himself with everyone."

Critics say that too often includes the elected Columbia Council, 10 volunteer residents who serve as CA's board of directors and Kennedy's boss.

Indeed, when new council members haven't understood the complexities of the CA -- with its hundreds of employees and its $49 million annual budget -- their education frequently has begun with words from the president.

As Wanda Hurt, a council member and Kennedy supporter, puts it: "They'll say, `Oh yes, you've been here forever. You know what's going on.' "

Kennedy responds with patrician manners and self-deprecating charm, an approach that has been successful in swaying council members over the years.

"Is it manipulative?" says another council member, who asked not to be identified. "It might be, but you don't feel bad about it because he's such a good guy."

Others aren't mollified, particularly residents who have asked questions about CA finances and walked away with few specifics and a sense of having been deflected.

"The problem is that you're actually calling him into question if you go further than that," says Lewis Lorton, a Columbia resident who has tried to ask detailed questions about CA spending. "He's been in charge for a long time, and he's a very charming guy. But when you look at the top of the mountain, it should be the council. It shouldn't be Pat."

"That's just not so," Kennedy says. "The council clearly is the decision-makers. The council clearly is my employer."

He sees his role as that of a chief executive officer, not that of a mayor. And he says the CA functions best when "the Columbia Council and the [CA] staff -- the whole thing -- is in harmony. That's ideal."

Kennedy's leadership of the CA goes back to the days when it was not an independent, nonprofit agency but an arm of the Rouse Co., which appointed him president in 1972. (The CA became independent in 1982.) He and James W. Rouse, the late founder of Columbia, were longtime neighbors.

Outside of work, Kennedy, a native of New York City, and his wife, Ellen Conroy Kennedy, are prominent in the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society. Former Howard County Executive Elizabeth Bobo recalls going to a dinner party at Kennedy's house 15 years ago and running into author Saul Bellow.

Kennedy makes $103,248 a year, plus $6,195 in annual pension contributions. In past years, he has received yearly bonuses of as much as $11,174, but this year he is not receiving one. By all accounts, he loves his job.

As he once told a reporter, "I disagree with the Protestant work ethic. I hate work. If a job isn't fun or psychically satisfying, I won't stay. What would be as interesting as this? It is a terrific job."

Pub Date: 4/27/97

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