Council split on next step for search

Unusual factions develop as panel tries to pick CA chief

`We messed this thing up'

Proposals include restarting process, waiting for elections

Columbia

January 30, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Council is divided again - this time over whether to continue looking for someone to run the town, delay the process or stop it altogether.

The issue splits the council into unusual factions as it tries to right its foundering search for a Columbia Association president.

Some members who backed rival candidates earlier this month - before the search broke down amid bitter infighting - find themselves teaming up over how to proceed.

The council hopes to make a decision at a meeting Thursday night.

Five council members say they are at least open to delaying the search, which fell apart when the second of three finalists withdrew Jan. 10.

Two members say they want to move ahead with plans to hire a president by April. Two say they are undecided.

One, Councilwoman Cecilia Januszkiewicz of Long Reach, supports stopping the search and hiring interim president Maggie J. Brown.

The five council members who say they are open to postponing the search are Pearl Atkinson Stewart of Owen Brown, Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance, Donna Rice of Town Center, Vincent Marando of Wilde Lake and Adam Rich of River Hill.

Stewart, Halpin and Rice wanted to hire Michael D. Letcher, city manger of Sedona, Ariz., before he withdrew Jan. 10.

Marando and Rich favored Gregory C. Fehrenbach, administrator for Piscataway, N.J.

They may be on the same side now, but that doesn't mean they see eye-to-eye.

Rice and Stewart said the council - which split over charges that some opposed Letcher because he is black - needs to heal before making such an important decision.

Rich said he leans toward a delay, but for a different reason. He said he would prefer to hire someone before elections in April, particularly because seven of the 10 council seats are up for grabs.

But he said he does not think there is enough time to do it.

"I think I would be more in favor of not saddling the next council with it, but it's unrealistic to think we can get it done in two months," he said.

Marando said he is open to delay - but only if the council uses the time to examine philosophical questions about the president's role.

Halpin said he wants to wait to ensure the president has the new council's support.

The council members who want to move ahead with the hiring process are Miles Coffman of Hickory Ridge and Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills.

Coffman had supported Letcher, and Russell had backed Fehrenbach.

Both offered the same reason for continuing the search: They want to finish what they started.

Russell also expressed concern that a delay would damage the morale of Columbia Association staff members, who have been without a permanent president since Deborah O. McCarty resigned under pressure in May.

Councilman Robert Conors of Dorsey's Search and Chairman Lanny Morrison of Harper's Choice said they were undecided.

Conors had supported Fehrenbach, and Morrison had backed Letcher.

Januszkiewicz wants the council to stop its search and hire Brown, who served as the association's vice president for community services before the council named her interim president Jan. 11.

Januszkiewicz does not, however, support leaving the search for the next council.

"I think that Maggie would be a very appropriate candidate," said Januszkiewicz, who is not seeking re-election."... She has a lot of credibility not only within Columbia, but also in Howard County."

Januszkiewicz's position turns the racial politics of the presidential search on its head.

As a supporter of Fehrenbach, who is white, Januszkiewicz was accused of being racist, a charge she called "baloney." Now, she supports Brown - who is black - for the job.

Meanwhile, some who alleged anti-black bias say Brown should not have the job unless she applies and is interviewed with a new batch of candidates.

"We messed this whole thing up terribly and I don't think we need to make any quick and snap judgments about anything," Rice said.

In an interview last week, Brown declined to say if she was interested in the job. She said she had never applied for it.

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