A group of community leaders on Monday threatened legal action against the Columbia Association’s board of directors and urged residents to recall board members in an effort to protect embattled Chief Executive Officer Lakey Boyd.
Standing in front of Columbia’s Lake Kittamaqundi, speakers at Monday’s news conference lambasted the 10-member CA board for holding undisclosed meetings and spending more than $40,000 of residents’ money on outside counsel after Boyd appealed her most recent performance evaluation. The board has yet to publicly comment on Boyd’s job status as rumors continue to circulate that they are seeking to terminate her employment. Columbia is a planned community of 10 self-contained villages with a population of more than 104,000.
“Columbia Association Board of Directors, you should know that a growing number of individual residents of Columbia are strongly considering legal action against you, both in your organizational, as well as individual, capacity for breach of duty of loyalty, breach of duty of fidelity and inappropriate behaviors,” said Erika Strauss Chavarria, executive director of nonprofit Columbia Community Care. “Please take this as a warning if you continue to ignore the demands of this community.”
Board of Directors Chair Eric Greenberg, who represents the village of River Hill, declined to comment Tuesday on the news conference or clarify the board’s position on Boyd, who is the association’s highest-paid staff member and the closest figure Columbia has to a mayor.
Boyd has argued that the unfolding drama centers on the board’s reluctance to embrace change at the historically insular Columbia Association, a nonprofit community services corporation that functions as a homeowners association and oversees a budget of $70 million as well as a wide array of neighborhood amenities, including pools and 95 miles of jogging trails.
The association is governed by a board of elected representatives from the city’s 10 villages, each of which has its own electoral model, but typically sees voter turnout only in the hundreds. All current board members are white, in contrast to Columbia’s increasingly diverse population, which identifies as 27.5% Black, 13.3% Asian and 9.4% Hispanic, according to U.S. census data.
“There’s a general lack of understanding of the power of the CA board and the impact their decisions have on the everyday lives of residents,” Chavarria said. “Because of disenfranchisement and the power of incumbency, this board has continued to remain mainly older white men and women who have abused their power and remain unresponsive to the demands of the community.”
Boyd’s supporters contend she is a forward-thinking CEO who has reached out to a broad range of community stakeholders who were previously excluded from the association’s work.
“With Lakey’s leadership, CA is beginning to shine as a true community leader,” said Oakland Mills resident Laura Bacon.
Protesters stood behind speakers and held aloft signs with QR codes linking to petitions to recall board members representing the villages of Dorsey’s Search, Harper’s Choice, Oakland Mills, River Hill and Town Center.
Former CA board member and Harper’s Choice resident Ashley Vaughan accused the current board of fiscal mismanagement and wasting the association’s budget in their attempt to oust Boyd. The association derives funding in part from annual charges paid by residential and commercial property owners.
From September through November, the board spent $42,000 of the association’s budget on outside counsel provided by the firm Ballard Spahr and attorney Tim McCormack, according to Dannika Rynes, the association’s senior media relations manager.
At a Nov. 16 meeting called by the board, McCormack informed Boyd that she had no standing to appeal her fiscal 2022 performance evaluation, which she called the lowest of her 25-year career and said contained no actionable items for improvement.
“The board members trying to secretly fire her need to explain to us all exactly why firing her is worth so much of our money,” said Vaughan, who added that buying out the remainder of Boyd’s four-year contract would cost the board $500,000.
While the board has not commented on why they hired McCormack, a June 23 closed board meeting was held to discuss “hiring outside counsel to assist the Board with addressing the President/CEO’s appeal of her FY22 performance evaluation.”
Rynes says that the closed meeting was one of 10 held since the start of the fiscal year that the board failed to publicly disclose. Nine of the meetings were “executive sessions,” meetings held solely by board members and did not include Boyd.
According to the Maryland Homeowners Association Act, a homeowners association’s board of directors must release the time, place and purpose of a closed meeting and the record of board members’ votes to close the session as part of a subsequent meeting’s minutes. The association provided a list and summary of all previously undisclosed meetings held since June after Columbia resident Jessamine Duvall submitted an information request.
“This is an uncommonly high number of closed meetings for a CA board,” Rynes said.
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According to the summaries compiled by the association’s general counsel, six of the closed meetings focused on Boyd’s appeal of her annual performance evaluation, while meetings held Sept. 29 and Dec. 19 included discussions on “the Board’s options for its relationship with the President/CEO.”
The release of the closed meeting summaries added further fuel to the growing firestorm of public discontent with the board and increased calls for transparency.
“It’s important that we embrace [Boyd] and support her as she tries to work with a dysfunctional board, a board that does not believe in accountability,” C. Vernon Gray, Howard County’s first Black council member, said at the news conference. “We have to have new board members who are committed to the values, the vision of [Columbia founder] Jim Rouse and to this community as a whole.”
Chavarria noted that seven board seats are up for election in April and called on the community to engage with the election process and turn out to vote.
“The outpouring of support from the Columbia community is continuous proof that our organization is moving in the right direction under Lakey’s leadership,” Rynes said.
At the same time, Rynes and others say the board’s refusal to clarify its stance on the CEO threatens to undo the progress the association has made during the past 18 months. Another closed board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 4, although its purpose was not stated as of Jan. 3.
“Anytime we see another closed meeting scheduled, the uncertainty is palpable and really difficult to prepare for,” Rynes said. “We’re constantly preparing for the worst-case scenario.”