Busy first day on job for a new president McCarty assumes post at helm of association

August 26, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Deborah O. McCarty's 5-year-old son started kindergarten Monday at Northfield Elementary School a mixture of jitters and excitement. Yesterday, McCarty began her first day as Columbia's new leader much the same way.

"I'm glad to be here," McCarty said as she sat in her relatively empty office at the Columbia Association. "Packing, moving everybody has been an ordeal. Everybody keeps asking me what I want to do first. I want to hear from other people. I want to listen to them, learn how things work.

"It would be ridiculous for me to say these are the priorities over people who have lived here," she said. "They know what the priorities are and should be."

It has been barely six weeks since McCarty was offered the $125,000-a-year job as president of the association, which has an annual budget of $44 million and acts as Columbia's government. She left her roots in Atlanta, where she was head of parks and recreation and a former City Council member, to move to a home in Dorsey Hall.

For an hour yesterday morning, about 50 staff members -- from clerks in the accounting department to open-space managers and marketing specialists -- greeted McCarty at a reception with bagels, coffee and fruit in CA's headquarters overlooking Lake Kittamaqundi.

For many association employees, it was their first meeting with McCarty, who replaced Padraic M. Kennedy, the only leader the homeowner's association has ever had in its 27-year history. Kennedy, 64, retired Aug. 14.

"When most of us have only known Mr. Kennedy, it is different to have someone new," said Ann Blimmel, a CA secretary. "It's a whole new era."

Shawni Paraska, general manager of marketing, said: "This is the first time in forever that we've had somebody new as the president. You're excited, yet cautious.

"You have to feel her out," Paraska said, as she talked to co-workers. "You have to ask, 'What is she going to do different?' "

Although it's not an elected position, the president is perhaps the best-known name and face in the town of 40,000. Kennedy, who served as a director of VISTA, the domestic Peace Corps, was known for his patrician charm. McCarty, a former VISTA volunteer, brings a 20-year career in the political arena.

A native of Houston, McCarty served as an Atlanta councilwoman for 16 years before being appointed head of the city's parks and recreation department. The 10-member Columbia Council, which serves as the homeowner association's board, selected her from a pool of 100 applicants from across the country.

McCarty's biggest challenge so far has been simply finding her way around Columbia.

After arriving in Dorsey Hall Thursday night with her husband, who is a lawyer, and three children -- ages 5 1/2 , 3 and 8 months -- McCarty said she did what any newcomer would: find the local grocery store and walk the neighborhood. Both activities, she says, gave her "a warm feel of Columbia."

"We walked on our first Columbia pathway to take our son to school," McCarty said. "I went to an orientation for parents of kindergartners on Friday and [her son Jack] left [Monday] afternoon for his first day."

Her only major hassle has been that the movers came a day and a half late. Her furniture didn't arrive until Saturday night.

One of the first neighbors to welcome her was Rafia Siddiqui, the association's chief financial officer, who lives about a block away.

The two joked yesterday about how McCarty's children were excited to have her home Monday, unpacking boxes. "Our main problem now is nobody can find anything," McCarty said.

She says she plans to start work slowly, meeting more CA staffers, going to the community's 23 outdoor pools, gyms and summer youth day camps this week. She will attend her first Columbia Council meeting tomorrow, when the board will decide whether to approve more than two dozen purchases exceeding $25,000.

Much of her first day was spent meeting with the council's chairwoman, Norma Rose, and several vice presidents. She has not started to look at the organization's budget or inner workings. She was too busy to even unload from her car a box of sentimental pictures and personal belongings to decorate her office, she said.

Kennedy, her predecessor, was known for keeping several hand-woven baskets and a bust of John F. Kennedy on his desk. The only decorations yesterday in her newly painted office were a dark pink mum and a CA-owned watercolor, sitting on a table.

"The main things we have given her so far are budget books, telephone books, an empty Rolodex, pencils and pens and paper," said CA spokeswoman Pam Mack. "It's like the first day of school. You get new supplies and you just start out."

In coming months, McCarty will be faced with hiring a new vice president of the group's open-space management program to replace Fred Pryor, who is retiring soon. One of the biggest issues facing the council will be the development of policies to reduce the organization's debt and ways to add services and programs or reduce the CA's property liens -- all issues members will discuss at their coming annual conference.

For McCarty, one of the most important things to do in her private life is find a baby sitter for her two youngest children. Many of CA's employees -- women in particular -- seemed inspired by McCarty's dedication to balance career and family.

"She's a mom with young kids, and it's wonderful to see her leading Columbia," Paraska said. "She's a good example of a working mom. Here she took one of the largest jobs in the area, yet she is not sacrificing her family."

Pub Date: 8/26/98

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