Proposal to censure abandoned

Residents `appalled' at council's motions to condemn members

McCarty expenses at issue

Atkinson-Stewart, Halpin deny breach of confidentiality

March 12, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Council has backed away from voting on a censure of two members, but not before facing strong criticism from residents who packed what would normally be a sparsely attended meeting.

The motions would have censured council members Pearl Atkinson-Stewart and Kirk Halpin for allegedly disclosing "confidential" information about some business expenses of Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty.

Angry village residents and community officials had their say at the board's bimonthly meeting, which lasted until just after midnight Friday.

FOR THE RECORD - An article Sunday in the Howard edition of The Sun incorrectly stated the outcome of a Columbia Council vote to clear two council members of allegations they had disclosed "confidential" information. The motion to clear Pearl Atkinson-Stewart and Kirk Halpin of wrongdoing passed, 3-0, with seven abstentions. The Sun regrets the error.

Kenneth Puckett, the council member who proposed the censures, tried unsuccessfully to remove the proposed censure motions from the agenda, then did not introduce them later as items for action.

Instead, Halpin introduced a motion to clear Atkinson-Stewart and him of wrongdoing.

Both have called for an independent audit of McCarty's finances but have said they did not disclose any "confidential" information from a closed-door council meeting Feb. 16.

Joining the accused members in supporting the motion was Earl Jones, the Oakland Mills representative, who said publicly for the first time that he had also supported the audit. Because the other seven council members abstained from the vote, the motion did not pass.

The resident speak-out portion of the meeting lasted about an hour and a half and included impassioned testimony.

Barb Seely, chairwoman of the Kings Contrivance village board, told the council that it has been "tearing apart" the community.

"I'm truly appalled at what you've done to this town," she said, speaking against the proposed censure motions.

William Taylor, a resident of Long Reach, said he was "appalled" and "embarrassed" by the support his village's council representative, Cecilia Januszkiewicz, has given McCarty. He said that McCarty had displayed a "lack of judgment" and that he supported an independent audit of her expenses.

After the resident speak-out, Januszkiewicz said the dispute stemmed from a "resistance to change."

Joseph Merke, the council chairman, criticized the media for its "tainted" coverage and said he had canceled his subscription to The Sun.

"They're selling papers, and making us and you argue," he told the crowd.

McCarty, who has faced criticism in recent weeks over her leadership of and commitment to the planned community, declined to say after the meeting whether she favored the proposed censures.

"My comment is that this is a classic kind of problem that occurs in transitions," she said. "My view is that we learn from adversity, and we make the organization stronger because of it, and that's what we'll do with this."

In remarks to the council before the meeting adjourned about 12: 30 a.m. Friday, McCarty said the community needed to do a lot of "rebuilding."

She told them she wouldn't have put up with the events of the past few weeks if she weren't committed to CA.

McCarty, on a two-month leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act, asked Halpin to apologize for raising questions about her finances in the media. She said some of the expenses he had questioned had been audited during the routine annual review last year.

The council voted 7-3 last month against an independent audit and pursuit of the matter.

McCarty also told council members that she appreciated "the courage of the majority."

"Sometimes things have to get really bad before they can get better," she said. "People like to shoot the messenger, but that's OK. I have tough skin."

Atkinson-Stewart said, "I feel really inspired by all of the community coming out, elected officials and everything. That's important to me. People do care."

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