Columbia leader's commitment to job questioned

Association president puts down few roots after 18 months on job

February 23, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Eighteen months after taking over as Columbia Association president, Deborah O. McCarty's professional and personal ties are still largely in her hometown of Atlanta, raising questions about the extent of her commitment to her $130,000-a-year job.

McCarty has no Maryland driver's license and is not registered to vote here. She maintains a residence in Atlanta -- the one she lived in before being hired by the Columbia Association -- and is an "active" member of the Georgia Bar Association. She has a child enrolled in school in Atlanta, and her husband practices law there.

"I have serious concerns about Deborah McCarty's commitment to Columbia and the Columbia Association," said Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance village, who sits on the 10-member Columbia Council.

Halpin is one of two council members who have called in the past week for an independent audit of McCarty's travel and other expenses, which have included trips to Georgia, Florida and California.

According to public documents and other records, McCarty: Has not registered her car in Maryland.

Sold her house in Dorsey's Search village in December and signed a six-month lease on a new townhouse in River Hill.

Is listed under an Atlanta address in the current Georgia Bar Association directory.

In a telephone interview yesterday from Atlanta, where she is spending part of a two-month leave of absence for personal reasons, McCarty said she has kept her status as a member of the Georgia bar -- at Columbia Association expense -- because if she didn't, she "wouldn't be a lawyer at all."

"Am I practicing any law in Maryland? No," she said. "Am I involved in any employment outside of CA? No."

McCarty said she doesn't know where her personal car is registered -- she was issued a Columbia Association car -- but that it is in her Columbia garage and is not being driven. She didn't know, she said, that Maryland law requires residents to register out-of-state vehicles within 30 days.

Asked why she hadn't registered to vote, she said, "I just haven't had time and gotten around to it."

The Columbia Council hired McCarty, a former Atlanta councilwoman and recreation and parks commissioner, to replace Padraic M. Kennedy as head of the association, which operates facilities and provides services for Columbia's 87,000 residents with a $50 million budget.

In the past six months, council members have raised concerns about her leadership and whether she is aggressive and visible enough.

Concerns also have been raised over some of her reimbursed expenses, including dues to the Georgia Bar Association and legal education courses that allow her to remain in good standing with that organization.

"In my opinion, it is inappropriate for Deborah McCarty to have the Columbia Association pay to maintain her law license as an active member of the Georgia Bar and to pay for her to attend continuing legal education courses on subjects such as criminal law, which I do not believe have any direct benefit to CA," Halpin said.

Last March, records show, McCarty enrolled in a six-hour criminal law seminar in Virginia, for which the Columbia Association reimbursed her $125.

"This course was required in order to maintain my status as a lawyer in good standing, as a member of the Ga. Bar," says a McCarty memo dated March 11.

In September, the association reimbursed McCarty $200 for annual Georgia bar dues. On the membership form, which lists her Atlanta address on Beechwood Hills Court, she is designated as "active" rather than "inactive."

According to the state bar, active members must complete continuing legal education courses to remain in good standing.

McCarty said she was given the discretion when hired to make decisions on what conferences she would attend and that she told CA she wanted to continue her "professional affiliations."

"I was told that I could use my own discretion about training and travel, and this is part of the training that I've chosen to do," she said.

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

McCarty said she is "actively looking" to buy or rent a house in Columbia after her lease runs out.

McCarty's husband, John R. Myer, has a law office in Atlanta and has been working there in recent weeks.

One of McCarty's sons is enrolled at Children's School in Atlanta, the administration office there confirmed. He is no longer enrolled in the Howard County system, said schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan, and is being tutored in cooperation with his local first-grade teacher.

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