Columbia leader hires consultant

McCarty's move gets mixed reaction from Columbia Council

March 26, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty has approved spending up to $25,000 for an outside consultant to help mediate the recent controversy that has left the community and the Columbia Council bitterly divided.

Steve Beall of Columbia-based Beall Consultations has been hired for "transition, facilitation and public relations consulting."

"I think most of his work will be focused on the board and the president," McCarty said Friday.

"I've used a facilitator in the past," she said. "I always think that that kind of outside neutral assistance can be beneficial."

McCarty said Beall was referred to her by council Chairman Joseph Merke. Neither Beall nor Merke returned phone calls for comment Friday.

`Clarifying roles'

In a memo distributed Thursday night to council members, Merke said Beall had been hired "to assist us in clarifying our roles and expectations." He said each council representative would be able to meet with Beall "privately" on Tuesday or Wednesday for "one to two hours."

A group session has been scheduled for Thursday, according to the memo.

Adam Rich, the council representative from River Hill, called Beall's hiring a "positive action" that will help council members "come together and work on a solution."

"To the best of my knowledge, the chair, in an attempt to bring some reasonableness to this situation, asked for some outside assistance and advice," he said.

Kirk Halpin, the council representative from Kings Contrivance, called it "totally unacceptable" to spend money on a facilitator to clean up a "mess" created by McCarty.

`Web of mistrust

"Ms. McCarty has actually created her own mess by weaving an inextricable web of mistrust and hostility between council members and residents," he said. "I believe that if we were getting our money's worth from Deborah McCarty, then we would not need to hire such a consultant."

The purchase requisition -- for up to $25,000 -- was signed by McCarty and dated March 21. McCarty said Friday she doesn't anticipate the cost to be "anywhere near that," but couldn't say how high the cost might be because she didn't know how long Beall's services would be needed.

McCarty said the facilitation sessions would "probably be open" to the public and that she hoped Beall "would offer some assistance with the new board as well."

Impending elections

Community elections are being held April 14 and 15; at least one new council member will be elected because Merke is not seeking another term.

McCarty weathered a formal effort Thursday night to remove her as head of the Columbia Association. A motion introduced by Earl Jones of Oakland Mills was defeated in a 7-3 vote. Joining Jones in voting for McCarty's removal were Halpin and council Vice Chairwoman Pearl Atkinson-Stewart of Owen Brown.

In a letter sent Friday to the community, Rich said two or three council members are on a "mission to remove the president, no matter what it costs."

"They are holding us hostage and tearing this town apart," he said. "They don't `feel' she is a good leader. They have made up their mind, judge and jury, and refuse to listen to anybody who disagrees. The people of Columbia deserve better.

"The easy decision would be to fire her. The leaders of Columbia won't take the easy decision."

He challenged the village boards to accept an invitation from McCarty for what she has called an "open dialogue" at her River Hill townhouse.

Several villages, including Owen Brown, Hickory Ridge and Long Reach, have suggested meeting with the president in a public setting instead.

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