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Answering to residents; McCarty: Columbia Association's leader addresses the public for first time since controversy arose, taking questions and sharing thoughts on community.


Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty, facing residents yesterday for the first time since controversy erupted over her leadership of the planned city, attributed much of the anxiety to growing pains of a "mom and pop" community association becoming larger.

McCarty, who succeeded Padraic M. Kennedy in August 1998, told an audience of about 70 people that Columbia's system of governance has structural flaws and "probably isn't the right one today." She said people don't like to hear "bad news" about staff changes or the flattening of revenues CA faces as residential and commercial growth subsides. And she criticized the media for what she called their "flagrant disregard for the facts."

The two-hour session at CA headquarters was McCarty's first attempt to answer the public's questions, a week before residents go to the polls for village elections. Jean S. Friedberg Jr., the Hickory Ridge council representative, moderated the session.

McCarty declined to answer questions from the media, saying, "This is not a press conference." A second question-and-answer session is scheduled from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. today.

"I'm totally inspired by your courage," Rae Lapine, a Wilde Lake resident, told McCarty, who recently returned from a two-month leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. "Being abused for being a mother is outrageous."

Addressing a staff issue, McCarty said two CA vice presidents, Pam Mack and Shelby A. Tucker King, have left the association. Four others who were ordered to sign resignation letters last month have been asked to stay.

"So there doesn't have to be continuing anxiety about that," she said.

McCarty said the six were asked for resignation letters "because it wasn't personal. It was saying, 'A CEO ought to have the right to amass that person's team.' " One of the biggest complaints council members made in her recent performance review was that she hadn't made staff changes sooner, she said.

The Columbia Council voted 9-1 Thursday not to give McCarty a raise in her $130,000 salary and voted 6-4 against a $5,000 bonus.

Ethel B. Hill, who has lived in Columbia since 1969, said it's "embarrassing to have [residents] see the silliness that has occurred." The issue, she said, is not whether representatives on the 10-member council like one another or get along with the president.

"The issues are civility, respect and process," Hill said. "I'm here today as a healer, and I want to know, what thought have you given to what happens after the election?"

McCarty said CA is preparing to get bids for a facilitator to work with the new council at a retreat next month. She said two previous facilitators have identified structural problems with Columbia's government, and that she has gotten differing directives from the council on whether she should be a leader or a follower.

A handout left at the back of the room -- printed on Columbia Council stationery and critical of McCarty -- became the subject of brief debate. Friedberg said someone had "misused" the letterhead. It was unclear yesterday who brought copies of the handout, which used a question-and-answer format similar to one McCarty recently employed.

Responding to a request that she release her personnel file, McCarty said she is "personally willing" to make public the agreement letter that outlines her terms of employment. At the same time, McCarty said, doing so could set a "very bad precedent" for her successors. She said she is awaiting a decision from outside counsel on whether releasing it is in CA's best interest.

McCarty said she has made 147 public appearances since her arrival as head of CA -- and that she couldn't possibly be recognized by everyone in the community in such a short time.

"It's very difficult to compete with 26 years of familiarity," she said, referring to the tenure of her predecessor, Kennedy.

McCarty described the late developer James W. Rouse's vision for Columbia as "building an open, inclusive, welcoming, tolerant community" and a "garden in which people can grow."

She said her vision is much the same and that she wants to "honor and value the contributions of the past" while encouraging greater community participation. "It can't be Columbia if it doesn't include all of you," she said.

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