A petition to keep embattled Columbia Association President and Chief Executive Officer Lakey Boyd in office has received more than 570 signatures as of Friday morning, the latest development in a monthslong drama at the nonprofit that serves as the de facto government of Maryland’s second-largest city.
Columbia Association board member Dick Boulton, who represents the village of Dorsey’s Search, said Friday that he had been “misquoted” in reports stating the association is conducting an ethics investigation into Boyd’s actions.
“[Boyd] is not being investigated by the board for an ethics violation,” Boulton told the Howard County Times on Friday, declining to comment further on personnel matters.
Since beginning in May 2021, Boyd has received widespread support from community members for her leadership of the association, which oversees a budget of $70 million and a wide range of community services and amenities, from tennis courts to pools, for the unincorporated community of more than 100,000.
Uncertainty has swirled about Boyd’s job security since an Oct. 27 public meeting when she asked the Columbia Association’s board of directors why Vice President Dennis Mattey had been approached about filling the role of interim president.
Board Chair Eric Greenberg responded at the meeting by saying he was unaware of any such discussions and “anything beyond that is a personnel matter.” Greenberg did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Howard County Times.
On Nov. 14, Bill Inglis, chair of the Hickory Ridge Village Association, said during a village board meeting that was recorded and posted online that multiple Columbia Association board members had told him the group was willing to pay “whatever it takes” to oust Boyd, who is signed to a four-year contract. The board of directors has yet to clarify its position publicly and Boyd said she recently lost an appeal of her annual performance evaluation that she says provided conflicting feedback and no concrete steps for improving her performance.
“I cannot point to something that has been instructed to me by the board that I am not doing or am doing,” Boyd said Thursday. She added that the evaluation was by far the lowest performance review she’s received in her 25-year career. “I am about as confused as a lot of members of the public, even though it is my job.”
Dozens of residents and community leaders testified at a Nov. 10 association board meeting, speaking in support of Boyd and questioning the board’s micromanagement of the CEO. Another petition signed by 156 Columbia Association employees backing Boyd was presented at the meeting.
“She’s the real deal. She’s the right person for the job,” said Willie Flowers, president of the Howard County NAACP, who spoke at the November meeting and signed the petition. “It appears that [the board] is not happy with her work product but the rest of the community is.”
Boyd, who was hired by the board after a nationwide search and has decades of experience in city planning and development, says she is committed to continuing the work she’s started as leader of the association.
“The 18 months that I’ve been here have further confirmed for me both that we have an excellent team and that this is a special community,” said Boyd, who moved from Alabama for the job. “I see so much potential to reconnect to the community in this era and then also continue to evolve the organization.”
Founded in 1967 by real estate developer James Rouse, Columbia is an unincorporated community with a population of 104,681, according to the 2020 U.S. census, making it the second-largest city in the state behind Baltimore. Each of Columbia’s 10 villages has its own community association and board and elects a representative to the Columbia Association board of directors.
Tasked with maintaining nearly 3,600 acres of open space and neighborhood amenities, including 95 miles of walking and biking paths, the Columbia Association derives its budget in part from annual charges paid by residential and commercial property owners.
In addition to reviewing the budget and policy matters, the association’s 10-member board has the power to appoint and terminate the CEO, a mayor-like figure.
All current board members are white, in sharp contrast to Columbia’s increasingly diverse population, which identifies as 27.5% Black, 13.3% Asian and 9.4% Hispanic, according to census data. Boyd has drawn praise for emphasizing diversity and inclusion in her outreach and communications efforts.
“There’s sometimes a tension between the values that everyone loves to talk about in Columbia versus the ‘let’s roll our sleeves up and get dirty’ and have those tough, courageous conversations,” said petition organizer Janssen Evelyn, who’s served as assistant chief administrative officer for Howard County and in the county’s Office of Law. “Lakey, to many people’s delight, is not just here talking the lip service — she’s doing the work.”
Since assuming office, Boyd has joined the Howard NAACP and other community organizations, and hosted several events alongside the Howard County Library System and Howard Community College to connect rising leaders throughout the county.
“She deeply cares about all people, cares about making sure that our organizations and our organizational assets are really working at their fullest to build a better community, a more equitable future for everyone that lives here in Columbia,” said Tonya Aikens, president and CEO of the library system.
While Columbia frequently garners awards for quality of life, including a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2022 Municipal Equality Index, Boyd cautioned in an October letter that the planned city cannot rest on its laurels and must actively question why inequities still persist.
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“I do not believe these awards to be the full story of Columbia,” she wrote. “They certainly deserve to be valued, but they are more so a snapshot and method of comparison, not a full and robust representation of all the parts and pieces that make up the lived experience of being in our community.”
Some residents, including C. Vernon Gray, Howard County’s first Black council member who served five terms as a Democrat, see the inter-board drama as further proof Columbia needs a new governance model.
“Part of the problem is the board wants to be the operating arm as well,” said Gray, who’s lived in Columbia since 1973 and was at the ceremony where Rouse handed over control of the community to the association. “You have to understand what the role of the board of directors members is and that is to make policy, give guidance and not try to run the organization.”
Gray and others said they hope Boyd’s struggles with the board inspire more community members to learn about the association and get involved with village elections.
“The first thing is to educate people and let them know what’s going on,” Gray said. “I always believed in [Rouse’s] vision of inclusion, opportunity, diversity. I think that’s what we want this association to begin to address.”
In the meantime, demand for answers among Boyd’s supporters continues to grow.
“All of these individuals are coming out, speaking out and yet we have a Columbia Association board that still has not said what is going on,” Evelyn said. “Why is [Boyd] having to deal with that stress and that tension, when they should be focused on board governance and not trying to run the CA?”