Choice of head irks blacks White woman named president of group that runs Columbia

'Real sense of stewardship'

Choice of Atlantan defended against exclusion complaints

July 02, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Edward Lee and Erika Peterman contributed to this article.

An article in the Maryland section yesterday incorrectly stated that David Berson, a member of the Columbia Council, was on the college president selection committee. In fact, he was a member of the Columbia Association's presidential selection committee.

The Sun regrets the error.

As Deborah O. McCarty was introduced yesterday as Columbia's equivalent of a mayor, county African-American leaders complained that a highly qualified black male from Arizona was overlooked for the post.

Some leaders of the African American Coalition of Howard County say they are concerned that two prominent positions filled recently in the county -- the presidency of Howard Community College and now the presidency of the Columbia Association -- did not go to blacks.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"We lost the head of [HCC]. It went to a white," said Sherman Howell, vice president for policy research at the coalition, in a telephone interview. "Now, we lost the head of the CA to a white."

David Berson, a member of the elected Columbia Council that governs CA, defended the choice of McCarty, 45, parks and recreation commissioner for Atlanta, by the council at yesterday's news conference to announce her appointment.

"We choose race-blind, ethnically blind and gender-blind," said Berson, who was on the college president selection committee. "It happened to be a woman. We chose the person for who they were and what they could do, not who they represent."

After the announcement, Howell and other black leaders question why Michael Letcher, 44, city manager in Sedona, Ariz. -- who was the runner-up -- was not chosen.

"Columbia advertises itself as a model of racial openness and togetherness," Howell said. "We had a qualified black man who was not selected. It sends a strong message to the black community of Howard County that we just aren't prepared to put a black in a position of power in Columbia."

Committed to community

The Rev. Robert A. F. Turner, president of the coalition, said: "The frustrating thing is that the selection committee says the process is working because qualified African-American candidates are surfacing. We want to move from just identification. We want them to be selected."

McCarty represented a predominantly black district on the Atlanta City Council, winning four elections between 1977 and ,, 1993, before she was appointed to the parks post.

"If any of those people talked to people in my district, they would find that I was very committed to having a viable, racially integrated community," McCarty said in an interview yesterday.

"There was an incredible interest [in] what we -- black and white -- were able to do in my district," she said.

Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, who reappointed McCarty commissioner of parks and recreation after her unsuccessful run for president of the City Council last year, defended her.

"When you looked at her, you didn't see black or white, you saw her competence," he said. "She's a consensus builder."

'Every opportunity'

Letcher, who has 20 years of experience in city government management, said he felt he had a good background for the Columbia post.

"I felt I was given every opportunity," he said yesterday. "My advice to them was that they needed to select the person whom they felt most comfortable with."

Controversy rarely visited the post of CA president during the 26-year term of McCarty's predecessor, Padraic M. Kennedy. Appointed by the Rouse Co., developers of the planned community, Kennedy took over in Columbia's early days.

More contention

As Columbia grew into a suburban city of 90,000, Kennedy's Columbia Association served as a benign source of recreation and community-building, the guardian of the vision of James W. Rouse of a multiracial, affordable and intellectual community.

Only in recent years -- amid charges of improper spending and purchasing practices and allegations of money misplaced by a village manager -- has the job grown more contentious.

McCarty entered politics in 1977, running for a City Council seat in what became an overwhelmingly black district. A 25-year-old theology student and former VISTA volunteer, she defeated an incumbent black Republican, staying on the council until her appointment as parks and recreation commissioner in 1993.

"I bring a real sense of stewardship for those basic concepts on which James Rouse founded Columbia -- diversity and community," she said. "Whatever else may be changing, those bedrock principles are as vital today as they were 30 years ago."

Awaiting confirmation

McCarty's decision to leave Atlanta came as she was awaiting confirmation by the Atlanta City Council.

Campbell reappointed her in April, amid threats to block the appointment from Council President Robb Pitts, who told the Atlanta Constitution that he didn't think McCarty was qualified to resume the post.

Councilman Jim Maddox, who heads the committee that screens administrative nominations, disagreed.

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