Columbia official says criticism unfounded

2 board members say president ducks issues

March 02, 2000|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty responded to her critics yesterday, charging that she has been victim of an "unfounded character assault" by a "disgruntled" minority on the association's board of directors.

"I understand better than anyone that public life is a contact sport, but even the roughest of contact sports have minimal rules of fair play," she wrote in a letter mailed to Columbia Association employees, members of the Columbia Council, Howard County elected officials and business leaders.

McCarty accused two members of the council of violating association bylaws, leaking confidential matters to the media and failing to follow the wishes of the board's majority.

"I did it really for clarification," said McCarty, who was reached yesterday in Atlanta where she has been with her son, who is undergoing medical treatments. "Cumulatively there was so much misinformation."

But her critics say McCarty's letter fails to address questions about her commitment to Columbia and her fiscal responsibility.

"It is her commitment we are talking about," said Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, vice chairwoman of the Columbia Council and head of the Management Appraisal Committee that reviews McCarty's performance. "She wants to side-step the issues."

"I think it is unfortunate that Debby now appears to be turning it into a personal attack," said Kirk Halpin, the Columbia Council representative from the Village of Kings Contrivance. He too has been critical of McCarty and has called for an audit of her travel and other expenses.

McCarty's letter was mailed from the Columbia Association offices and arrived yesterday.

Council session

Today the Columbia Council is scheduled to meet in executive session to discuss the issue but is expected to reaffirm its support for her because the overwhelming majority of the board has voted to support her in the past.

The Columbia Council hired McCarty, a former Atlanta councilwoman and recreation and parks commissioner, 18 months ago.

She replaced 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 McCarty's leadership and whether she is aggressive and visible enough.

She does not have a Maryland driver's license and is not registered to vote here. She maintains a residence in Atlanta, and her husband practices law there.

Questions have also 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.

Audit not needed

The Columbia Council discussed those issues in a closed session Feb. 16 and voted 7-3 that an audit is not warranted.

McCarty is on a two-month leave of absence to care for her son and spends much of her time in Atlanta.

With her letter, McCarty mailed an explanation from a Howard County's school spokeswoman about her son's status. According to spokeswoman Patti Caplan, the boy is not enrolled in Howard schools but is receiving assignments from his first-grade teacher, and school administrators expect him to return to school this year.

McCarty said he has been mailing his assignments to his teacher weekly since the beginning of February.

She said she hopes he will be back in school by the end of March.

In her letter, McCarty accused her critics of trying to interfere with her leave of absence to care for her son, who has suffered from severe allergies since the family came to Maryland.

Agrees with McCarty

"Those of you who are parents can just imagine the anguish of undergoing painful and risky medical procedures with my small child while this insanity is exploding at my office," she wrote.

Cecilia Januszkiewicz, a council member from Long Reach village and one of McCarty's supporters, said she agrees with McCarty's characterization of her critics. "I think it is a legitimate response to an attack that has been unabated for the last two weeks," she said. "I do think it was an attack to coincide with her leave of absence."

But Atkinson-Stewart said concerns with McCarty's leadership go back more than a year. "We have all shown understanding about her child," she said. "But we need to ask what her commitment is to the corporation."

Halpin said McCarty's letter fails to answer questions about why she has not registered her car in Maryland and why she has not registered to vote here.

Henry Dagenais, chairman of the Long Reach Village Board, said the letter doesn't answer his main question. "The question I have [is], `Is she staying or not,' " he said. "She is trying to do some damage control, but she hasn't answered the question."

But McCarty said she believes she made her point clear. "My intention is as it has been all along, and that is to stay," she said.

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