CA president fields queries a second time; McCarty reiterates structural problems are root of political rift; Changes needed, she says; Chief defends decision to reshape senior staff, laments 'bad timing'


For the second day, Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty fielded questions from residents yesterday, accepting a share of the blame for poor communication but saying that structural governance issues are at the root of problems in Howard County's planned community.

McCarty said one benefit of the recent controversy over her leadership and commitment is the "reinvolvement" of residents who had become less active in the community over the years.

McCarty also accused some Columbia Council members of violating their fiduciary responsibility as board members by disclosing confidential information.

She reiterated remarks she made during a similar session Saturday that CA is undergoing growing pains.

Lewis Lorton, a Kings Contrivance resident, asked McCarty who she thought should be held responsible for the leadership vacuum he described at the top of CA.

If the president isn't going to lead, "somebody should be the leader," he said.

McCarty said the community needs to re-examine whether Columbia should become a city; whether Columbia Council members should be elected at-large rather than from each of the 10 villages; and whether CA's board of directors should be appointed rather than elected.

"Until the structure changes, you can't fix it," she said.

McCarty spoke during a two-hour question-and-answer session at the association headquarters moderated by Councilman Kenneth Puckett of Dorsey's Search.

McCarty replaced Padraic M. Kennedy as head of the community association in the 87,000-resident planned community in August 1998. She said the need for senior-level staff changes became apparent to her "very early on," and that she was "trying very much to build a team."

McCarty said it was "bad timing" when all six vice presidents of the association were asked to submit resignation letters a month ago so she could remake her administrative staff but added, "It was the right decision."

McCarty said the council that hired her wanted her to take a back seat in leadership but that not everyone on the new board thinks that is the best approach. Asked who would decide whether she would lead the council or follow it -- and when -- she responded: "I wish I could answer that. I'm not sure we'll ever have unanimity on that point."

Barbara Russell, a candidate for the Oakland Mills council seat, said the president hasn't specifically answered questions about her leadership but instead has been "casting aspersions" on critics.

"Apropos of Harry Truman, the buck doesn't stop anywhere," Russell said. "It keeps bouncing around. I can't find the buck."

McCarty suggested several issues for residents to keep in mind when they vote Friday and Saturday in village elections, including covenant enforcement, the need for a long-term "strategic planning process" and whether the candidate is willing to be a "team player."

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