Council ponders McCarty's fate

Makeup of body will change Monday with 4 new members

April 28, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Council held its final meeting of a tumultuous yearlong session last night, even as members worked at the 11th hour to determine the fate of Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty.

McCarty's future remained unclear as the council -- acting as a board of directors -- went into executive session late last night.

The makeup of the board will change Monday when four new members will take office.

Council Chairman Joseph Merke had been trying to piece together support behind the scenes for an agreement that would be acceptable to McCarty and a majority of the 10-member council.

Those familiar with the situation said various options had been floated, including a buyout -- or severance -- package. The amount of any such package could not be determined yesterday, but at least one suggestion involved $100,000.

"There were discussions about finding a solution," Cecilia Januszkiewicz, the council representative from Long Reach, said yesterday. She declined to elaborate.

McCarty, whose 20-month tenure as Columbia's unofficial mayor has become the subject of intense community debate, could be removed as president by a two-thirds majority of the council.

The letter of agreement outlining her terms of employment provides for six months of severance if she is dismissed without cause, those familiar with the agreement have said. That would amount to $65,000.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Merke canceled a special session that had been called 24 hours earlier to discuss McCarty's situation. It was the second such meeting in less than two weeks to be arranged and then abandoned without explanation.

Merke did not return calls yesterday seeking comment.

McCarty, who succeeded Padraic M. Kennedy in August 1998, said Wednesday that she had no plans to resign. She did not return phone calls seeking comment on possible severance yesterday.

The incoming council, which will assume its duties when the new fiscal year -- and the new session -- begins May 1, has shifted in favor of McCarty's critics.

Lanny Morrison, who soundly defeated incumbent Tom Forno in Harper's Choice, seems to be the likely replacement for Merke as chairman. Morrison, who took that role during previous service on the council, has called on McCarty to step down.

In a report to the council April15, Steve Beall of Beall Consultations strongly recommended that McCarty be retained, saying her departure would amount to "a failure of CA to manage its issues and to conduct business."

Beall, who was hired last month under "emergency" purchasing procedures to mediate the recent conflict, warned that the association's "failure to support and retain the CEO could result in a less than amicable departure."

"It would undoubtedly be financially costly if the matter became legally adversarial, whether the Association `won' or `lost,' " he wrote.

Beall suggested that if the council dismisses McCarty, "steps should be taken to make severance as orderly and as amicable as possible, and for the transition to be accomplished professionally."

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