The Columbia Association's board of directors voted last night against removing Deborah O. McCarty as president, despite growing unrest among residents and calls for her to step down.
Saying there is persistent concern about McCarty's commitment to the community and her "quality and style of leadership," board member Earl Jones of Oakland Mills introduced a motion to remove her as Columbia's equivalent of a mayor.
The measure was defeated, 7-3. Those voting against it were Tom Forno of Harper's Choice; Jean S. Friedberg Jr. of Hickory Ridge; Cecilia Januszkiewicz of Long Reach; Vince Marando of Wilde Lake; Joseph Merke, the council chairman, of Town Center; Kenneth Puckett of Dorsey's Search; and Adam Rich of River Hill. Marando was out of town and voted by proxy.
Joining Jones in supporting the motion were Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, the council vice chairwoman from Owen Brown, and Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance.
While acknowledging that the Columbia Association needs "substantial changes and improvements," Rich gave a passionate defense of McCarty, saying that anyone who succeeded former association President Padraic M. Kennedy, who was in office for 28 years, and sought changes would face opposition.
"Deb McCarty is asking the hard questions, and she is getting railroaded out of town for it," he said. "Do we want to condemn her based solely upon the loud and inhumane distortions of the few? Or do we want to come together, give the president the tools necessary to succeed and then judge her performance?"
Friedberg said Jones' motion circumvented the process established by the board -- which also serves as the Columbia Council -- to evaluate the president's performance. The Management Appraisal Committee is scheduled to do a formal review of McCarty on April 6.
"I think the motion brings shame on us," Friedberg said.
According to association bylaws, the president may be removed by a two-thirds vote of the board.
McCarty, who took the helm of the association in August 1998, has found herself at the center of a community-wide debate in recent weeks. Her most controversial action came March 10 when she told all six of the association's vice presidents that they had less than 24 hours to submit letters of resignation.
Since then, residents, village officials and association staff members have strongly supported the vice presidents, two of whom are no longer employed by the association.
Jones' motion also would have restored all vice presidents to their "prior positions without the threat of termination unless subsequently their performance so justifies."
The board did not consider last night a separate motion proposed by Rich this week to place McCarty on a 60-day "probation" to prove herself a worthy leader and provide a "grand vision or master plan" for Columbia.
A longtime resident and self-described Columbia "pioneer," Pat Rausch of Long Reach said the board had made a "serious mistake" in hiring McCarty, and urged residents to "vote your conscience" on April 14 and 15 in village elections.
Barbara Russell, who is challenging Jones for the Oakland Mills council seat, told board members they were not elected to "sit in self-imposed isolation, shrouded in secrecy."