Next Columbia Association head faces uncertainty

Seven of 10 members of governing board up for re-election in April

December 26, 2000|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

To win the job of Columbia Association president, one of the three finalists will have to win over a majority of the Columbia Council.

But he can't count on its backing for long.

Seven of the council's 10 members are up for re-election in April. At least two of them - Cecilia Januszkiewicz of Long Reach and Adam Rich of River Hill - have decided not to run. The new council takes office in May.

"It is a problem since this person will be hired by a group of people, seven of whom can change in four months," Januszkiewicz said. "... It could be a whole new cast of characters."

The prospect of a dramatic turnover apparently has not deterred the candidates. They are competing to head the homeowners association, which provides recreational services and maintains strict housing standards for the unincorporated town of 87,000. The post has been vacant since May, when Deborah O. McCarty resigned her $130,000-a-year job under pressure after 20 months.

The finalists - Gregory C. Fehrenbach, 53, administrator for the township of Piscataway, N.J.; Michael D. Letcher, 47, city manager of Sedona, Ariz.; and Theodore J. Staton, 45, city manager of East Lansing, Mich. - have endured their share of changing political tides.

Staton lost his job as assistant city manager in Dayton, Ohio, in January 1995 - three months after a new city manager, Bill Estabrook, was hired. Estabrook fired Staton and another veteran manager in what was characterized in Dayton Daily News articles as an act of political housecleaning.

"It is an unfortunate casualty or hazard, rather, of the profession," said Staton, who noted that he has worked successfully with three mayors and 11 council members in his five years in East Lansing.

The makeup of Sedona's City Council has changed every two years for the six that Letcher has been there, he said.

"It's something you get accustomed to," he said. "To be in this business, you have to work with people effectively as one of the principal skills. The most important thing is to have good systems, processes and procedures so that no matter who's on the council, those people can come in and work within those systems and procedures in order to move the community ahead."

Columbia has had its share of awkward transitions in recent years.

Elections in April 1999 put four new council members in office eight months after McCarty arrived. She saw two more supporters swept out in last April's elections, which brought four new members to the council. McCarty resigned two weeks later. A McCarty supporter who had not been up for election stepped down in protest, bringing the number of new faces to five.

Council members said they gave the candidates fair warning about the potential for turnover.

"We were up front with them about that," said Councilwoman Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills. "I think like anyone else, they'd prefer that the people who hired them would remain for life, but that's not how it works in the political world."

But there's no doubt about the importance of a good relationship between the president and council, which also serves as the association's board of directors.

"It's very clear to me that the board is going as far as humanly possible to ensure that there's not only a fit with them, but a fit with the whole community," Fehrenbach said.

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