Columbia official under scrutiny

McCarty performance to be reviewed tonight

February 16, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Just 18 months after hiring Deborah O. McCarty to lead the Columbia Association, city council members are raising new concerns about her leadership and plan to meet with her tonightbehind closed doors to discuss her performance.

Some council members question whether McCarty, who is only the second association president in 28 years, is aggressive and visible enough. They also worry about CA's long-term financial health at a time when the city is nearing build-out and, some believe, is most in need of a commanding leader.

"Some of the council got concerned about the overall performance of the Columbia Association, and since most corporations have one person at the top, that's the place to start with," said Adam Rich, the council representative from the village of River Hill.

CA is a homeowners association that runs Columbia programs and facilities for its 87,000 residents.

McCarty replaced CA's first president, Padraic M. Kennedy, in August 1998. Unlike her predecessor, who was handpicked for the post by the Rouse Co., McCarty was appointed by Columbia's equivalent of a city council after an extensive public search.

Last fall, the council's Management Appraisal Committee, a four-member panel evaluating her performance, asked McCarty to increase her visibility and become more of a community "ambassador."

The former Atlanta city councilwoman and recreation and parks director had been focusing primarily on streamlining CA operations, including the budget process.

"Some people are frustrated because they wanted things to be dramatically different, some people are frustrated because they don't want one thing to change from the way it used to be," McCarty said yesterday in a telephone interview. "And we're in a new era."

In November, McCarty asked for and was granted a two-month leave of absence -- which began this month -- to deal with personal matters that sometimes take her out of town.

Rich called some of CA's decisions, financial and otherwise, "disappointing."

He said the homeowners group is undergoing "kind of a metamorphosis in the after-Kennedy era." During Kennedy's 26-year tenure, Rich said, "nobody knew any of this stuff. However Kennedy got things done, he would get them done. Whether they were done 100 percent properly didn't really matter."

In some respects, the situation has improved because the process is more open, he said, but added that there can be a disadvantage to this openness.

"I think it's part of the growing change of not only getting bigger, [but] it looks worse to the community sometimes."

McCarty makes $130,000 a year, $5,000 more than when she was hired. The terms of her employment are not laid out in a formal contract, but rather in a "letter of agreement," which CA does not consider a public document.

McCarty's formal review by the Management Appraisal Committee is scheduled for early April.

As an organization, CA is at something of a crossroads. The council is discussing ways to address rising costs and stagnating revenue as the city reaches the point at which there is little or no new development. The 10-member board is considering whether to close some programs and facilities, including the Horse Center, which is used by fewer than 1 percent of Columbia residents and has lost an estimated $1.5 million since 1986.

One council member, Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance, said tonight's meeting with McCarty was called to discuss a "personnel matter." Cecilia Januszkiewicz, the representative from Long Reach, said the agenda will include a "wide variety of corporate matters"; she declined to elaborate.

"I really don't want to talk about this at all," she said. "I just don't think that it's productive for anybody to talk about this in a context in which people do not have all the facts or hear all of the discussions."

Joseph Merke, the council chairman, would say little about McCarty's overall job performance.

"I think that's something that the whole council has to talk about and discuss," he said. "My own viewpoint on the matter is unimportant. It's the discussion and the agreement -- Debby and I have worked very well together."

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