Panel likely to consider censure bid

Unnamed officials accused of violating confidentiality

`Freedom of speech'

Discord may spring from recent scrutiny of Deborah McCarty

March 07, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Still divided over the performance and commitment of Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty, the Columbia Council is expected to consider a motion this week to censure one or more of its members for disclosing "confidential" information.

The agenda for Thursday night's meeting does not specify who might be censured, but, in recent weeks, council members Pearl Atkinson-Stewart and Kirk Halpin have raised questions publicly about McCarty's leadership.

It is unclear what confidential information is thought to have been disclosed, or what weight -- if any -- a censure would carry.

"You cannot censure a member of the board of directors with no investigation or any findings or whatever," said Atkinson-Stewart, who is vice chairwoman of the 10-member council and chairwoman of the Management Appraisal Committee. "Why are you going to do that, and how can you censure someone for merely expressing their opinion? I mean, we still have freedom of speech here."

Said Halpin: "I don't know anything about the censure motion, as far as who is going to be censured."

Another item on the Thursday agenda is discussion of the "integrity" of the Management Appraisal Committee process. The panel, of which Halpin is also a member, is scheduled to make a formal evaluation of McCarty next month, including whether to give her a raise or a bonus.

"I hope there's not a move afoot to remove [Atkinson-Stewart] from that position," said Earl Jones, Oakland Mills' council representative. "We'll have holy war going on right in public.

"I wouldn't be supportive of any position that contemplates the censure of any member of the council and/or removal of any member of the council from any position that they currently have."

In a three-page letter sent to the Columbia community last week, McCarty, who is on a paid leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act, defended herself against recent criticism surrounding some of her expenditures and her commitment to her $130,000 post.

In it, she said, she has been the target of a "malicious attack" being carried out with the help of the press, which she called "willing players in this reckless disregard of my reputation."

"Board members who cannot adhere to the bylaws and democratic concepts of majority rule, or maintain their fiduciary duty of care to CA, are not responsible to the corporation," McCarty wrote.

A former Atlanta councilwoman and recreation and parks director who has strong ties to that city, McCarty replaced Padraic M. Kennedy in 1998 as head of the Columbia Association. She is the second association president since the community was established.

At a closed-door session in February, the council voted 7-3 that an independent audit of McCarty's expenses was not warranted and that the matter did not merit "further action" by the board, according to a statement released by Council Chairman Joseph Merke.

At another closed session last week, the council voted to "fully support" McCarty and expressed its "full confidence" in her.

Merke, who did not return phone calls yesterday seeking comment, did not give the breakdown of that vote.

"If they were able to publish the last time what the votes were, I don't see why this time they didn't also publish it," said Atkinson-Stewart, who is seeking an outside legal opinion on whether the vote should be made public. "So what's the difference this time? That's crazy."

Cecilia Januszkiewicz, council representative from Long Reach -- who provided no additional information on the censure motion -- said it was time to stop dwelling on the McCarty issue.

"We have lots of issues to deal with and we've given her a vote of confidence and we're moving forward," she said.

Kenneth Puckett, the council representative from Dorsey's Search who requested that the censure motion and Management Appraisal Committee discussion be placed on the agenda, did not return calls yesterday.

Atkinson-Stewart said neither item was "appropriate."

"It's just very threatening to have it there, and that's just the whole thing," she said.

As for McCarty's letter to the public, she said, "I still didn't see where she gave any assurances about anything. It was just more or less a letter, I guess, of pleading with people to understand her position."

Thursday's council meeting, which is open to the public, will be held at 7: 30 p.m. at Columbia Association headquarters on Wincopin Circle.

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