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Columbia political squabble worsens; Chairwoman quits job on panel set to review association president; 'Waste of time'


The chairwoman of a committee scheduled this week to evaluate Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty has resigned from that post, saying the recent community controversy would make a performance review a "waste of time."

Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, chairwoman of the Management Appraisal Committee, said meeting Thursday to determine how well McCarty has met her performance goals -- and whether to give her a raise or bonus -- would be "inappropriate because it has become crystal clear that the majority and the minority of the board have already decided their positions." The meeting had been planned before the controversy began.

The Columbia Council has consistently voted 7-3 in favor of McCarty on leadership, performance and business finance matters.

"If we voted against [the compensation recommendation], we still couldn't stop it," Atkinson-Stewart said yesterday.

Atkinson-Stewart, who is vice chairwoman of the council, has repeatedly voted in the minority with Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance and Earl Jones of Oakland Mills. All three have called for McCarty to step down.

In a largely symbolic gesture of concern about the issue, the council voted last month to reconfigure the four-member committee as a "committee of the whole" -- meaning all 10 council members sit on it -- even though the president's performance goals were set last year. The only step remaining is for the full council to "grade" McCarty and determine her compensation.

Last spring, the council gave McCarty a $5,000 raise, making her salary $130,000.

McCarty returned to work full time last week from an "intermittent" two-month leave. She said her family has joined her and that her son, who had received medical treatment in Atlanta, is back in school in Howard County.

In response to Atkinson- Stewart's written request Sunday that the review be canceled, Joseph Merke, Columbia Council chairman, said it will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday as planned.

"I do not understand your reason for wishing to cancel the MAC meeting," he responded. "The goals were set, the year is up and the evaluation should go forward."

Merke said: "Your duty is to be chair for this meeting and complete the task. I expect to see everyone Thursday night."

Atkinson-Stewart said she plans to attend the meeting but will not lead it. She said Merke should assume that role because it will be a meeting of "all the council members."

The committee's goals were set by Atkinson-Stewart, Merke, Halpin and Jean S. Friedberg Jr. of Hickory Ridge, with input from McCarty. The full council approved them.

Halpin said yesterday that the review will not address whether McCarty is the right person for the job: "I don't believe that the MAC process ever intended to focus upon the larger issue of whether Ms. McCarty is a competent leader of the Columbia Association, and whether or not she should be fired.

"It is my understanding that the MAC will merely determine whether Ms. McCarty met the goals that were jointly set by her and the MAC, and then determine how much of a raise or bonus she will receive."

Adam Rich, the River Hill council representative, suggested last month that 10 people join the review committee. Merke and Atkinson-Stewart opposed that, but it never came to a vote.

In her memo to Merke, Atkinson-Stewart wrote: "Over the last few weeks there [has] been much said regarding the fairness in evaluating the President. It takes the majority of the Board to decide on the evaluation/compensation of the President and that has been established by the recent public comments and expressed positions. This is a waste of time to proceed, when the results have been delivered publicly already by those for (7) and against (3)."

Rich said other council members are "willing to keep an open mind and critique the president and CA's performance on the facts, not the emotions du jour."

The committee meeting will be closed. McCarty said yesterday that she will hold question-and- answer sessions from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday and from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at CA headquarters.

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