As the Columbia Council was poised to consider the censure of two of its members last night, community residents and village officials packed a public meeting to vent their anger in the escalating dispute.
The censure motions condemn Kirk Halpin and Pearl Atkinson-Stewart for disclosing what some board members allege is "confidential" information from a closed-door meeting last month. At that meeting, questions were raised about some business expenses of Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty.
"How do you act as judge, jury and executioner? The community will not tolerate it," said Lanny Morrison, a former Columbia Council chairman who spoke as a resident of Harper's Choice.
Addressing the board, Morrison continued: "You are not a 6-year-old that does not fathom the consequences of a loaded gun. Or maybe you are."
Vivian Bailey of Wilde Lake Village called the proposed censure motions "ridiculous" and said of Halpin and Atkinson-Stewart, "they should be commended for having the guts to stand up and do what's right."
Kenneth Puckett, a representative of Dorsey's Search who sponsored the motions, tried to remove the measures from the agenda at the start of the meeting. However, Halpin, who has been publicly critical of McCarty's leadership, argued that removing the measures after they had been publicized would be unfair.
"The accusations are still made, they're still outstanding," Halpin said.
The outcome of the proposals remained unresolved at press time last night.
During the "speak-out" portion of the meeting, residents and officials from a cross section of villages testified against the proposed censure.
Some speakers criticized McCarty, the former Atlanta recreation and parks director who maintains close professional and personal ties to that city, for failing to establish permanent roots in Columbia.
McCarty, who is on a two-month leave of absence for family reasons, does not have a Maryland driver's license or a vehicle registered in Maryland and has not registered to vote in Maryland. She is an active member of the Georgia Bar Association, and her husband is practicing law in Atlanta.
McCarty, who earns $130,000 a year, replaced Padraic M. Kennedy in August 1998 as Columbia Association president. She spends much of her time in Atlanta, where her son is being treated for medical problems.
She attended last night's meeting, but did not speak.
Richard Tobin of Kings Contrivance village spoke in support of Halpin and Atkinson-Stewart and the principle of "free speech." Tobin also questioned McCarty's "commitment and leadership qualities."
Norma Rose, a former council chairwoman, said McCarty is committed to Columbia.
"Transition is difficult," Rose said. "Change is difficult, and it seems to me that a lot of the concerns that have been expressed tonight are coming out of difficulties some people [are] having in dealing with the change."
During council member comments, Cecilia Januszkiewicz, the Long Reach representative and an outspoken supporter of McCarty, said: "This entire sorry episode has been about change and resistance to change."
Atkinson-Stewart demanded a public apology from her critics for questioning her "integrity and intentions."
"I'm glad that there's been such an overwhelming response from the community," Atkinson-Stewart, the vice chairwoman of the council, said before the meeting. "That's what the Columbia process is all about. I'm just going to see what they do next."
The two council members were quoted in The Sun after the closed-door meeting as saying they supported an independent financial audit.
Puckett said he took "great offense" at Halpin and Atkinson-Stewart sharing what he deemed confidential information with the public. He said the council has been damaged by "continuous leaks" of information.
"Not to be flippant, but the last time I looked we do have a Constitution," said Pamila Brown, chairwoman of the Hickory Ridge Village Board, in support of freedom of speech.