Atlanta aide gets top job in Columbia Parks director selected to head association

July 01, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Atlanta's parks and recreation director will become head of the Columbia Association (CA), the planned community's quasi-government, officials are expected to announce today.

Deborah O. McCarty, 45, has a long political history in Atlanta where she served on the City Council for 15 years, was appointed commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs in 1993, resigned last year to run unsuccessfully for president of the City Council, and was reappointed to the parks post this year.

She was awaiting a politically charged confirmation by the City Council when she decided to take the $120,000-a-year Columbia post. Sources close to the selection process say McCarty's appointment will be announced today by the 10-member Columbia Council, the elected body that oversees CA.

McCarty will replace Padraic M. Kennedy, 64, who will retire next month after 26 years as the only president the CA has ever had. Founded by Columbia's developer James W. Rouse, the CA has grown to become one of the largest homeowners associations in the country, with 800 employees and a budget of $44 million supported by liens on Columbia property owners, the equivalent of property taxes.

Though the CA does not concern itself with police and fire departments, it does take care of everything from tot lots and swimming pools to open space and sister city programs. Its head is the closest thing Columbia has to a mayor.

From 100 applicants

McCarty was selected from about 100 applicants -- some attracted to the process in a $14,000 nationwide search conducted by a Chicago search firm. Ted A. Gaebler, co-author of the book "Reinventing Government," which calls for a more entrepreneurial approach to government, was one of the finalists.

McCarty's political career began in 1977 when she unseated an incumbent Republican in Atlanta's 1st District, a sprawling grid of neighborhoods filled with poor and working-class voters. Viewed as a reformer, she ran as a 25-year-old theology student and VISTA volunteer.

"She was elected to the City Council at a fairly young age at a time when she was among the first women to be on the City Council," said Sharon Gay, vice president of governmental affairs at Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

As a white woman running in what became an overwhelmingly black district, she won four consecutive elections before her appointment as parks and recreation commissioner.

For years McCarty taught at the theology school of Emory University.

In the early 1990s, while serving as city councilwoman, McCarty earned her law degree at Georgia State.

As parks and recreation commissioner, she was involved in the planning of the 1996 Summer Olympics and keeping recreational programs for students going during that time.

"She is a serious-minded, thoughtful leader," said Gay, who worked with her during her tenure on the City Council. "She knows how to work with a diverse group of people. She's got a great blend of idealism and pragmatism. She is a manager who gets things done."

'Atlanta's loss'

Said Debi Starnes, a member of the Atlanta City Council: "This is definitely Atlanta's loss and Columbia's gain. She is a great commissioner. She is a person of very high integrity. She is genuine and a confident leader."

During Kennedy's tenure, Columbia has grown from a small, idealistic vision of Rouse's planned community to a suburban city of 90,000 people. Kennedy, who is known for his patrician charm, has overseen a largely uncontroversial period of growth at the CA.

Only in the past year, when an article in The Sun detailed questionable spending and purchasing practices, and a village manager was accused of misappropriating almost $100,000 in goods and money, has the CA come under tough scrutiny.

As its new leader, McCarty will be expected to oversee implementation of tighter controls on purchasing policies and a possible restructuring of the CA's relationship with Columbia's 10 villages.

Pub Date: 7/01/98

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