Community residents, officials and Columbia Association employees turned out en masse last night to raise concerns about President Deborah O. McCarty's leadership and to show support for six association vice presidents who were ordered by the embattled leader to submit letters of resignation.
About 175 people -- ranging from McCarty's next-door neighbor to former Columbia Association President Padraic M. Kennedy -- packed a meeting where voices were raised and insults were thrown and McCarty's job appeared to be on the line.
McCarty did not attend the meeting.
"The Columbia dream is over," said Rick Burk, a resident of Owen Brown. "The nightmare has begun. To me, when an association's chief executive demands personal loyalty, that organization has lost its mission or the chief executive has lost their mind."
Last week, McCarty ordered the six vice presidents to submit letters of resignation, saying she had questions about their loyalty, according to sources.
Russell Gobbel, a longtime Columbia resident, said a majority of the Columbia Council -- the association's governing body -- is "completely out of touch." Gobbel called on some council members and McCarty to resign.
"She has demonstrated her inability to work within or understand the Columbia process," Gobbel said.
Adam Rich, the River Hill council representative, fielded questions and angry complaints. He tried to explain why the council gave McCarty the authority to take action against the vice presidents. He also acknowledged that McCarty has made mistakes and that he has questions about her leadership.
"[McCarty] should be standing up louder, saying: `I am here for the long term,' " Rich said, suggesting that she be given a defined period of time -- 60 or 90 days -- to prove herself a worthy leader.
Wanda Hurt, a former Columbia Council representative, spoke in support of the vice presidents, praising their loyalty while questioning McCarty's commitment to the Columbia Association and the community.
"I question the word commitment. I would like to know where is her commitment," Hurt said.
Meanwhile, the Columbia Council -- acting as the association's board of directors -- met at association headquarters for the first time since The Sun reported on McCarty's request for the resignation letters.
That meeting, which was called by McCarty, was closed to the public.
Lanny Morrison, a former Columbia Council chairman who is running for the Harper's Choice seat on that body, called last night's public forum at Kahler Hall.
Morrison read a statement submitted by council representative Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance, who was attending the council's closed meeting.
"Deborah McCarty and certain members of the Columbia Council are claiming that this is all about resistance to change," Halpin's statement said. "I can assure you that this is not about resistance to change. This is about a president who I believe is not committed to Columbia and a president who I believe lacks leadership."
Halpin urged residents to vote for "someone who agrees with your point of view" next month.
Six of the 10 villages -- Harper's Choice, Hickory Ridge, Oakland Mills, Owen Brown, Town Center and Wilde Lake -- will elect council representatives April 15.
McCarty has declined to comment on "personnel issues."
The vice presidents, who function as a "cabinet," also have declined to comment.
On Wednesday, McCarty called an association-wide staff meeting to try to allay concerns, but she said she would not discuss confidential personnel issues.
She said that the recent "chaos" stems from a resistance to change within the organization, and that she is committed to Columbia.
McCarty, who is on a two-month leave of absence for family reasons, replaced Kennedy as the Columbia Association's top official in August 1998. She is the organization's second president.
Earl Jones, Oakland Mills' council representative, had requested that last night's council meeting be open to the public and that the vice presidents be present.
"I'm totally opposed to this proliferation of these types of [closed] meetings, and I don't think hiding behind a general statement that this is `personnel' serves the community well," he said.
"I'm not pleased that this is not open," Jones said, "but I am pleased that at least we're meeting to discuss it."
Jones' opponent for the council seat, Barbara Russell, called this week for McCarty to step down.
"We want a resolution," said Ethel B. Hill, a resident of Wilde Lake since 1969. "It is an embarrassment."