CA's past and presidents

Howard: Columbia Council should use leadership change as an opportunity to craft a new plan.

May 12, 2000

EVERYTHING'S UP in the air at the Columbia Association.

Columbia's ruling body has no ruler. Its general counsel and community relations positions are vacant, and it has new board members.

A pessimist might call this a leadership crisis, but for those with a positive outlook, this is a golden opportunity for growth.

The planned community can use this time for introspection. Columbia could remain an enormous homeowners association of 87,000 or it could give serious consideration to incorporation. The town's growth and the problems it encountered with the association's former president, Deborah O. McCarty, might make incorporation more attractive than ever.

That's long term. In the short term, the new Columbia Council must collect itself and fill the leadership vacuum at the top. Right now, the acting president is Charles "Chick" Rhodehamel. But his authority to make needed structural changes is limited by the interim title.

One new council member, Barbara Russell, wants her colleagues to act decisively and find a new president. That's a good idea.

Former County Executive Charles I. Ecker has expressed interest in the job. His experience in running Howard County efficiently for eight years would appear to make him a strong candidate.

More qualified, perhaps, is another former county executive, M. Elizabeth Bobo, who has lived in Columbia for years. Ms. Bobo, who now is a state delegate, has an intimate understanding of founder James Rouse's vision for the community. And her commitment to Columbia is unquestioned, unlike Ms. McCarty's. Columbia runs through Ms. Bobo's bloodstream.

The council also must decide whether to rehire two vice presidents whose departures were prompted by Ms. McCarty. Council members should go slowly here. Let the new president make that call.

Ms. McCarty didn't give Columbia what it wanted, but she may have provided exactly what it needed.

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