Complaint is filed against CA

Ex-official Morrison claims group violates closed-meeting law

Attorney general notified

Former council head also says association ignores its bylaws

March 23, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

A former Columbia Council chairman has filed a complaint with the state attorney general accusing the Columbia Association of violating state law in connection with closed-door meetings.

In a five-page letter sent Monday to Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., Lanny Morrison accused the association of violating the "spirit and intent" of the Maryland Homeowners Association Act and withholding "pertinent and relevant information" about its business.

A longtime resident who is running for the Harper's Choice seat on the Columbia Council, Morrison said he filed the complaint so residents would "have an idea of what really is going on rather than [the Columbia Council] saying to us, `If you only knew what we knew, you would understand.'

"The point is, we don't know, because they're doing things in closed session that they're not permitted to do under state law and their own bylaws," said Morrison, who was council chairman in the late 1980s.

At the center of the complaint is a March 9 meeting of the association's board of directors -- whose members also serve on the elected Columbia Council -- that was closed to the public. The board voted 7-3 during that session to give President Deborah O. McCarty the authority to take action against the association's vice presidents.

McCarty later told the six vice presidents they had less than 24 hours to submit letters of resignation, sources have said. Two of the vice presidents, Shelby A. Tucker King and Pam Mack, are no longer employed by the association, though the circumstances surrounding their departures are unclear.

"Things just happen, and nobody knows what it is that's happening," Morrison said in an interview yesterday. "I mean, what really happened with the vice presidents? Nobody knows, including the [association] staff."

According to the association's bylaws, vice presidents may be removed as officers by a two-thirds vote of the board of directors.

"If the Board indeed empowered the President to choose or remove Vice Presidents," Morrison wrote, "then this would have required a change in CA's bylaws.

"The public was not notified of such a proposed change and the change was made in secret and not in public."

Three council members -- Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, Kirk Halpin and Earl Jones -- have called for the vice presidents to be re- instated.

Council representative Adam Rich proposed this week an "immediate moratorium" on dismissing others, saying the board had "erred" when it supported the resignation letters this month.

A spokesman for Curran's office did not return phone calls yesterday.

The board chairman, Joseph Merke, also did not return calls. He and McCarty have said repeatedly they cannot comment on "personnel matters" and executive sessions.

In the complaint -- which names McCarty and the 10 board members -- Morrison said that the homeowners association has a "runaway board of directors" and that the "viability, well-being and organizational integrity of CA are at stake."

Morrison alleged that the board has:

Met in closed session for purposes other than those allowed under state law.

Taken actions not permitted in closed session.

Failed to make public information concerning the time, place and purpose of the session.

Under the homeowners association act, meetings may be closed only for specified reasons, including discussion of personnel matters and matters involving potential litigation.

In his complaint, Morrison asked Curran to investigate the charges and to void any action taken by the board that violated state law or its bylaws.

"This situation has gone on for many months, but has now reached a critical point where the actions by these individuals taken in secret meetings has exposed CA to considerable legal liability and threatens the financial well-being of CA," Morrison wrote.

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