McCarty's defenders speak out

Association officials assail questions about leader's commitment

`Carefully planned' attack

Council chair calls `matter closed' after `lengthy review'


February 24, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Two members of Columbia's elected council strongly defended Columbia Association President Deborah McCarty yesterday, calling her the target of a "carefully planned" attack designed to force her resignation.

Both played down questions raised about McCarty's commitment to Columbia, including her failure to register her car in Maryland, as required by law, and to obtain a local driver's license.

The council representative from Long Reach village, Cecilia Januszkiewicz, compared not registering a car here to traffic violations.

"It is the law. And it is the law not to go higher than 55 on the highway. And it is the law not to go through red lights. But guess what? People do," she said.

"I dismiss all of this questioning as the work of a minority who wish either to force the hand of the majority or to force the resignation of the president by manipulating the press," she said. "This minority, fearful of the weakness of their case, carefully planned their attack on Ms. McCarty to coincide with her absence on pre- approved and previously announced leave. As to her commitment to the organization, her daily work is more compelling than the details of her private life in a free country."

The Sun reported yesterday that McCarty, who is on a two-month leave of absence for family reasons, has maintained close ties to Atlanta -- where she was recreation and parks commissioner and a city councilwoman -- since taking over as Columbia Association president in August 1998.

McCarty is not registered to vote here and is listed as an "active" member of the Georgia Bar Association with an Atlanta address. One of her children is enrolled in school in Atlanta, and her husband has a law practice there.

Januszkiewicz said McCarty has made a "permanent commitment" to the Columbia Association, which provides services and operates facilities for the city's 87,000 residents, and that the president's critics have personal motives.

Two council members have said they support an independent audit of McCarty's expenses. Yesterday, both denied that their position is personal.

"I have no personal animosity towards Ms. McCarty," said Kirk Halpin, a first-term representative from Kings Contrivance. "I merely believe it is my duty to my constituents to ask questions how their monies are being spent and how the Columbia Association is being led."

Pearl Atkinson-Stewart of Owen Brown, who chairs the Management Appraisal Committee, a four-member panel that will evaluate the president's performance in April, said the questions raised concerns about McCarty's judgment and leadership.

Dealing with the facts

"It's the fact that we have to have the appropriate leader to take this corporation where it needs to go," she said. "To try to make this a personal thing is ridiculous, and it's an attempt to not want to deal with the facts. Name-calling is not the way to get to any consensus at all."

McCarty did not return calls yesterday seeking comment.

In a statement released yesterday, council Chairman Joseph Merke said that McCarty's expenses were discussed during a confidential five-hour council session last week -- but that the matter is considered "closed."

"The board listened to, asked questions, conducted a lengthy review of the documentation and corporate policies, and thoroughly discussed the expenses in question," he said.

According to the statement, the board voted 7-3 that the expenses "did not merit further action by the board. The board also voted 7-3 that an independent audit of the expenses was not warranted. The board considers this matter closed."

In an interview yesterday, Merke said, "I have never asked [McCarty] whether she is registered to vote, and that is none of my business. That's a personal decision for anybody. I don't even know what kind of cars she has, other than the ones supplied by the corporation, the association, for her use. And I have never asked anyone in my life to show me their driver's license. I am not a policeman, and as far as I'm concerned, that's all I can say about that."

Merke added, "If Debby was not committed to the association, she would have been gone a long time ago. She would not have put up with what has happened to her recently in the press, the accusations by people and the printing of that in the press."


Januszkiewicz said that not registering a car or failing to register to vote don't amount to grounds for "questioning [McCarty's] commitment to Columbia or her suitability for the job."

"I would venture to guess that most of the people who have come to Maryland do not change their tags immediately, or until they are forced to," Januszkiewicz said. "It's an expensive proposal."

Reached yesterday, Jean S. Friedberg Jr., the council representative from Hickory Ridge, and Earl Jones, the council representative from Oakland Mills, declined to comment.

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