CA president's decision on lobbyist criticized

Some on board say Brown should have come to them first

February 28, 2007|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,sun reporter

The Columbia Association president routinely sends a lobbyist to Annapolis during the state's yearly legislative session to persuade lawmakers to side with the organization. That strategy, however, has sparked objections this year from some of the association's board of directors.

The criticism comes in the midst of a bitter debate that has divided the board on whether to award Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown the three-year contract extension she is requesting. Half of the 10-member board believe Brown deserves the extension; the other half want to give her a one-year deal while the board looks for a replacement.

An association committee is in the process of preparing a contract offer for Brown. A closed-door meeting to discuss the contract is scheduled for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Phil Marcus, board member representing Kings Contrivance, believes Brown made a mistake concerning the lobbyist. "I think that on matters which directly affect CA, it is appropriate for a president to propose a position and come to the board for a recommendation," said Marcus. "I don't think it was proper for the president to make these decisions solely."

Brown said she presented members with the state legislative bills of importance -- which included homeowner association and land bills -- during the association's monthly board meeting in December.

"The president has the authority," Brown said, noting that past association presidents have done the same thing. "If you want to change that, then you need to do that. The staff and myself [are] well-versed in what will be a negative impact on CA and what will be a positive one."

Marcus said meetings were held last year to address the legislative lobbying plan, but no such meetings were held for this year's session.

Henry F. Dagenais, board member representing Long Reach, believes Brown's decision was justified.

"I think because of the contract and the conflict that has been there, there are some who are sensitive to what she does, and they are nitpicking the flaws," he said. "We forget she has the authority."

Brown, 67, who is paid $183,000 annually, is in the last year of a three-year contact that expires April 30. Brown, the first African-American woman to lead the association, took office in 2001 after a nationwide search to replace Deborah O. McCarty, who resigned. During an emotionally charged board meeting last week, Marcus lashed out at Brown for taking positions on legislative policies without consulting with the board.

"You took a position without the board," Marcus said. Marcus continued to speak, even after Tom O'Connor, board chairman, banged the gavel to stop the discussion.

After the uproar, which lasted a few seconds, Brown defended her actions, saying a lobbyist is usually sent to Annapolis each legislative session, and what that person does is part of her duties.

Marcus and Cynthia Coyle, board member representing Harper's Choice, said they are not objecting to Brown's stance on legislative issues, but rather the process she took.

"The board writes policy; even though she did not know that she was doing it, she was making policy," Coyle said. "Just by sending a lobbyist to Annapolis, you are taking a stand."

Coyle said she has disagreed with Brown many times and believes the organization needs a new president.

"This is not personal. This is about doing the right thing, and the organization needs to reclaim its leadership," she said. "This is very serious to me. To find out we have a lobbyist [in Annapolis] and not knowing what he is doing is not right."

Steven Sattler, the association's director of communication and marketing, responded on Brown's behalf.

"The board has historically empowered the president to address the day-to-day operations of CA. The board of directors are updated with all legislation with the state and has an opportunity to provide its input and opinions on all of these matters," he said. "Legislative issues have been addressed this way for over 39 years."

Members supporting Brown said they believe her actions were justified.

"The president and the staff are not making policy decisions. They are responding to legislature, and they should know what is going to harm CA and they should respond to that," said Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, board member representing Owen Brown.

Atkinson-Stewart said the actions of some of the members who oppose Brown are a ploy to have her resign.

"I feel this is a deliberate attempt to embarrass her, and it is very unprofessional for members of the board to conduct themselves in this manner," she said. "If they had objections, they should have brought it to the board, not Maggie. This is an attempt to antagonize her and berate her and make her quit, but this is not going to happen."

Marcus denied the allegation.

"My purpose was to determine whether Ms. Brown understood the relative roles of the president and the board," he said. "If I wanted to do something in that direction, then I would make a motion to dismiss [Brown], but I have no plans to do that."

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