McCarty's expenditures questioned

Columbia Council urged to seek independent audit

`Sufficient questions'

Association chief says actions follow policy given her

February 18, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Some Columbia Council members are questioning whether travel and other expenditures made by Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty were appropriate, and the vice chairwoman supports an independent audit.

The 10-member council discussed the matter with McCarty during a five-hour closed-door session Wednesday night that ended with no clear consensus.

Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, council vice chairwoman, said there were "sufficient questions" raised about the "appropriateness" of some of McCarty's expenses.

"Whenever there is a question of financial anything, there should be an independent audit to remove any cloud whatsoever " she said.

McCarty, who replaced Padraic M. Kennedy as the the Columbia Association's top official 18 months ago, declined to comment yesterday except to say it had been an "excellent meeting."

In an earlier interview, the former Atlanta councilwoman and recreation and parks director said questions about her expenditures had been raised by "one person who was new to the council who did not understand" the policy governing her travel.

When she was hired, McCarty said, the council gave her "complete discretion to make my own decisions about training and travel. All of my actions have been consistent with that policy.

The council chairman, Joseph Merke, said he did not formally approve all of McCarty's expenses but that such approval was neither expected nor required.

He said he considered the matter closed.

"I can tell you that all financial matters have been addressed to the satisfaction of the board," Merke said. " `To the satisfaction of the board,' you can take that as you want, but the board says they're satisfied."

The association is expected to release a statement to that effect.

The association has yet to provide complete records of McCarty's expenses, but in the year that began in October 1998, she traveled to Florida, Georgia and California for management training seminars and a conference of the American Bar Association, of which she is a member. She also made a four-day trip to Atlanta, which, according to association records, was one of the "relocation trips provided for in [her] employment offer."

In the period covered by records released by the association, McCarty's out-of-town expenses totaled about $9,300.

Atkinson-Stewart said council members "owe it to our community to clear the air and have an independent audit" of the expenses in question, regardless of the amount. "I feel it is my duty to question and to say that this is money given to us by a lien-payer, and we are not supposed to mismanage this dollar," she said.

Some Columbia Council members also have concerns about McCarty's leadership and the Columbia Association's long-term financial health, at a time when the city is nearing build-out and its revenue is flattening out.

Last fall, the council's Management Appraisal Committee asked the president to be more of an "ambassador" to the community, rather than focusing primarily on the association's internal operations.

Merke said another meeting will be scheduled to discuss those issues with McCarty before her formal review April 7.

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