McCarty focusing on the future

Council votes in closed session to back her presidency

`We are moving forward'

Panel turns attention to important issues of coming months

March 05, 2000|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Armed with a vote of confidence from her board, Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty says she wants to move forward addressing concerns in the community.

"We are moving forward with the work of the Columbia Association," McCarty said after the Columbia Council issued a statement backing her presidency.

In a lengthy, closed session Thursday, the council discussed McCarty's leadership and voted to support her.

"The board confirmed the president's authority to deal with all corporate matters, and expressed its full confidence in Ms. McCarty," said chairman Joseph P. Merke in a statement issued Friday.

"We still have a strong majority on the board that wants to steer the board in a positive direction," McCarty said.

The council is facing a number of important issues in the coming months, including the evaluation of the community's aquatics program, a decision on the future of the horse center, proposed changes in the compensation of Columbia Association staff and a review of the bylaws that govern elections to the council.

But first, the board must contend with elections April 15 that could change the dynamics of the council. Six of the 10 seats on the Columbia Council are up for vote, including that of Merke, who is not seeking re-election, and one of McCarty's critics, Pearl Atkinson-Stewart of Owen Brown.

For the past several weeks, the board has been embroiled in a dispute over McCarty's leadership and questions about her expenses.

Her critics have questioned her commitment to Columbia. 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. She is on a two-month leave of absence to care for her son, who has had severe allergies since coming to Maryland, and she spends much of her time in Atlanta.

Questions have also been raised about 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.

The council reviewed those concerns at a meeting Feb. 16 and voted 7-3 that an audit is not necessary.

Atkinson-Stewart, who voted against McCarty when she was hired by the association 18 months ago, said she did not know whether the council's latest vote supporting McCarty will silence the questions about her leadership or quell calls for an audit of her expenditures.

"Residents have a right to demand it if they want it," she said of the audit.

McCarty has accused her critics of inciting a "feeding frenzy" about her personal life. In a three-page letter to community leaders and Columbia Association staff members before Thursday's meeting, McCarty blamed the controversy on two "disgruntled" council members and accused them of trying to interfere with her leave of absence to care for her son.

Cecilia Januszkiewicz, the Columbia Council representative from Long Reach and a McCarty supporter, echoed those sentiments. In a letter published in The Sun, she accused fellow board member Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance of leading the attack.

"It is not sporting to attack a woman while she's out of town on leave to care for a sick child," she wrote.

Now, with the board's vote of support, McCarty said she wants to move ahead with work in Columbia, overseeing an organization with a $50 million budget that operates facilities and provides services for Columbia's 87,000 residents.

She said she wants to involve residents in developing a plan for Columbia's future, as it prepares for a time when new-home construction subsides and revenues flatten.

Will the council be able to work together after so much public finger pointing?

"That's a good question," said Merke. "I wish I knew the answer."

Though the symbol of Columbia is a tree with branches made of people holding hands, the Columbia Council has had its share of disputes, members note.

"It's always been a contentious board," said Atkinson-Stewart, who served on the council in the 1980s.

"We are like any other political governing body," Januszkiewicz said.

But the recent criticisms and accusations from the board and the president have been unusual, Merke said.

"We have never had it this public before," he said.

Yet, amid the latest dispute, committee work has continued on such issues as covenants and education, said Earl E. Jones, an Oakland Mills representative.

Januszkiewicz said the board also worked well together on the recently adopted budget and is cordial in its meetings despite members' disagreements.

"We don't come to fisticuffs," she said.

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