New leader for Columbia Howard County: President of homeowners association must overcome resentment over selection.

July 07, 1998

THE NEW president of the Columbia Association wants to get off on the right foot. Her start has been complicated, however, by the clumsy way in which the homeowners association board chose her. Complaints of racism have been made because an African-American didn't get the job.

The unfounded criticism was fueled by the board's acceptance of Deborah O. McCarty's winning application after it had already narrowed the field to seven.

Board Chairwoman Norma Rose said the process began in October, when Padraic M. Kennedy announced he would retire after 26 years in the post. A headhunter was hired as a consultant in February. The board by May had trimmed 170 applications to a list of 16. Seven were chosen for interviews.

But then a few more applications were received. "One was outstanding," Ms. Rose said. It was Mrs. McCarty's. She became one of the final four for the job. So did Michael Letcher, the African-American city manager of Sedona, Ariz., who was among the earlier applicants.

The African American Coalition of Howard County put Mrs. McCarty's appointment in context with the recent selection of Mary Ellen Duncan to be president of Howard Community College.

"We lost the head of [HCC]. It went to a white," said Sherman Howell, a coalition vice president. Such is the state of race relations in America today. Often it's a numbers game, even in Columbia, which was founded by the late James W. Rouse on the principle that ethnic differences shouldn't be a wedge.

Mrs. McCarty, though, has a background that indicates she will be able to get beyond this squabble. As a city councilwoman in Atlanta from 1978 to 1993, she received praise representing a district that was 85 percent black.

It won't be long before Mrs. McCarty will be busy solving problems in Howard County's noncity of 90,000 residents. If she does the job well, few will recall the flawed process that brought her to town.

Pub Date: 7/07/98

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