Low interest hampers search for new president

Council members seek residents' input about next leader

June 15, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

An unusually low turnout - even for Columbia - last night hampered the Columbia Council's first effort to get public input on its nationwide search for a new leader.

A public forum on the search for a replacement for former Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty drew about a dozen residents, and fewer suggestions than that as to how the 10-member board should handle what are the biggest issues on its plate.

Wolfger Schneider, one of two residents who signed up to speak at Kahler Hall, said the new president should not be a "high profiler" who has ambitions of climbing the corporate ladder, but rather should be someone who is focused on preserving Columbia's amenities and reducing its debt.

Longtime resident Jean Moon urged the council to "think broadly" during the search.

The new president, she said, should have a sense of the community's values and should be able to communicate easily with other leaders in Howard County, including Executive James N. Robey, the County Council, the president of Howard Community College and village association officials.

"We did not have that in Debby McCarty," Moon said.

A former Atlanta recreation and parks director and longtime city councilwoman there, McCarty resigned last month as the association's top official after a controversial 20-month tenure.

The council, which serves concurrently as the association's board of directors, plans to conduct a national search for a replacement with the help of a consultant. Board members hope to complete the process in about six months.

The council expressed disappointment that more residents didn't attend last night's forum and stressed its desire to include as many people as possible in the process.

"If it means our doing a little more contacting them, it's really vital," said Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, the council vice chairwoman who identified strong management skills and a respect for Columbia's diversity as attributes she is looking for in a president.

Barbara Russell, the Oakland Mills representative, said last night's low turnout might be an indication of increased public trust in the newly elected council.

"People respond to emergencies and problems and troubles much more frequently, and in just greater numbers, than they respond to a smooth, rational organized process," she said. "That's just human nature."

Another public forum is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. June 29 at Slayton House in Wilde Lake.

Resident Karl Thomas urged the board to get input from the association's vice presidents, who have kept the organization running despite the recent leadership turmoil.

"I would ask that as part of your inquiry into what we're looking for, that very, very significant input come from these vice presidents," he said.

"They're entrusted. You value them," Thomas explained. "They're going to have to work with the new person. They also probably have a very good idea of the kind of leadership that would work well within."

Schneider said the job of Columbia Association president is not as "complex" as that of county executive or governor, and should not have a salary higher than those positions. McCarty was paid $130,000 a year.

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