Chaos in Columbia

Who's in charge?: The Columbia Association, its president, Deborah McCarty -- anyone?

March 21, 2000

COLUMBIANS may want to attend this Thursday's council meeting to see if any council member has a clue about how to restore rationality.

The time is quickly approaching for the Columbia Association and its president, Deborah O. McCarty, to reassure the city's 90,000 residents that someone is, indeed, running the ship.

Questions about Ms. McCarty's job performance have been percolating privately and publicly for months. Yet facing that uncertainty, she decided last week to ask for resignations from all six of her vice presidents. The council subsequently took responsibility for that decision, but that was not reassuring: How do the lieutenants get called on the carpet amid climactic discussions about their commander?

Contrary to the association's apparent conclusion, many questions about Ms. McCarty have not been satisfactorily answered.

A majority on the Columbia Council voted, for example, not to request an audit of Ms. McCarty's expenses. And in the midst of questions about these expenses, the public learned that Ms. McCarty had not registered to vote or registered her car in Maryland.

That's partly due to her personal dilemma -- a sick child in Atlanta and a job in Columbia.

But Columbia has a dilemma, too. If the city needs someone to preside over its operations -- as a mayor or city manager might -- it needs that person every day. This turmoil need not mean the end of the Columbia dream. Much of that dream seems fine. But that is not a conclusion one can reach about the city's leadership.

The real transition Columbia needs is a careful, well-planned move from the current governmental structure to one in which democratic accountability imposes order. Incorporation and partisan elections may be the answer. In the short run, Columbia needs a resolution of the McCarty matter. The council must have her stay or go and state as clearly as possible why it has so decided.

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