2 McCarty critics are censure targets

Panel members deny confidentiality breach over association chief

March 08, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Two Columbia Council members charged with evaluating the job performance of the Columbia Association president have been accused in censure motions of violating a confidentiality agreement, and their ability to perform a "fair" review next month is being questioned.

In a draft of the motions, council members Pearl Atkinson-Stewart and Kirk Halpin are accused of providing the "general public" with information from a closed-door meeting in February at which some of Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty's travel expenses were reviewed.

A separate motion, if passed, would strip the four-member Management Appraisal Committee, of which Atkinson-Stewart is chairwoman and on which Halpin sits, of its job of reviewing the president in April. The evaluation would be performed by all 10 council members instead.

FOR THE RECORD - An article Wednesday incorrectly stated that the Columbia Association bylaws provide for the removal of a council member by a two-thirds vote. Council members can't be removed by such a vote, but members of the association board of directors -- who serve simultaneously as members of the council -- can. So, theoretically, someone could be removed as a board member but remain a council member.
The Sun regrets the error.

"In no uncertain terms, I have not and did not release any confidential information from this closed meeting to the press," Halpin said yesterday.

"I have raised concerns regarding Deborah McCar ty's commitment to Columbia, or lack thereof, her overall leadership, or lack thereof, and the propriety of certain financial expenditures in accordance with my legal duties and obligations. In my opinion, it is unfortunate that several other council members see the concerns that have been raised as personal attacks against them since they were the ones that hired Deborah McCarty."

The censure motions, written by council representative Kenneth Puckett of Dorsey's Search, say that the council "condemns this behavior -- and states in the strongest possible terms that disclosure of confidential information is a breach of the fiduciary responsibility of this member and is to be avoided regardless of the reason, justification or provocation."

The motions -- as well as a discussion of the council's "confidential information policy" -- will be considered during a public meeting at 7: 30 p.m. Thursday at association headquarters.

Puckett refused to comment.

Earl Jones, Oakland Mills' council representative, has said he would not support such a motion, saying it would further divide an already fractured council.

"I definitely would not be supportive of any type of extreme position that would be taken with regard to any person on the council," he said.

In background information provided with the draft of the motions, Puckett wrote that Atkinson-Stewart was quoted in The Sun as advocating an independent audit of McCarty's expenses, saying she had "sufficient questions" about their "appropriateness."

Her comments appeared two days after a Feb. 16 council session that was closed to the public.

Halpin was subsequently quoted in The Sun as the second council member to support an outside audit, Puckett wrote.

The council chairman, Joseph Merke, was also quoted as saying "that all financial matters have been addressed to the satisfaction of the board."

Merke, who could not be reached yesterday, has not been named in a censure motion.

The council has issued two written statements on the matter of McCarty's leadership and expenses, which have included dues for the Georgia Bar Association and legal education courses to remain in good standing with that organization.

The first said the board voted 7-3 that an independent audit was not necessary and that further action by the board was not warranted.

The second statement said that the board voted to "fully support" McCarty's presidency. The breakdown on that vote was not provided, but The Sun has learned that it was 5-3-1.

Yesterday, Vincent Marando, the council representative from Wilde Lake, called the censure motions a "distraction."

"We can point fingers at each other and not point fingers at each other and you're not going to start it or stop it anyway," he said. "I think it would be divisive, and it won't solve what we need to solve."

It is unclear whether there is any precedent for the censure of a council member and what weight -- if any -- the action would carry.

The association's bylaws provide for the removal of a council member by a two-thirds vote. The bylaws of the 10 villages, which are independent corporations, also allow removal or recall of a council representative.

McCarty's leadership of the planned community of 87,000 residents and her commitment to her $130,000-a-year job have been topics of heated debate in recent weeks. The former Atlanta councilwoman and recreation and parks director sent a three-page letter to community residents last week in which she said she was the target of an "unconscionable personal assault on my reputation."

McCarty is taking a two-month leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act and spends much of her time in Atlanta, where her son is undergoing medical treatment.

"What a terrible waste that these energies have been so destructive rather than being invested in something positive for the community," she wrote.

In background information on the motion to restructure the Management Appraisal Committee, Puckett wrote that Atkinson-Stewart and Halpin "have each expressed continuing and unremitting criticism of and hostility towards the performance, leadership and commitment to the Columbia Association of Deborah McCarty." Puckett wrote that this calls "into question their ability to fairly and objectively perform their duties" on the committee.

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