The Columbia Association used a radio frequency for nearly three years after its federal communications license to do so had expired.
President Deborah O. McCarty said the association had failed to renew a Federal Communications Commission license that allowed it to use wireless radios, but that employees in the open space division used the frequency anyway for almost three years before her arrival.
McCarty said she learned of the problem on her first day on the job in August 1998, and that the use of the radios was stopped.
"I immediately said: 'Not on my watch,' " she recently told residents during a question-and-answer session at Columbia Association headquarters. "That has been my life since I got here."
The Sun reported this week that the association also has been operating for more than a decade in violation of a federal law designed to crack down on employing illegal aliens.
The association had not required its employees to fill out an employment verification form known as an I-9 until recently, according to a "confidential" document prepared by McCarty.
Illegal workers were discovered in two of the group's divisions with "supervisory knowledge," the document says.
Failing to complete and retain the I-9 form for every employee hired after Nov. 6, 1986, can result in fines ranging from $100 to $1,000 per employee.
Knowingly employing an unauthorized worker carries a penalty between $250 and $2,000 per worker for the first offense, and between $2,000 and $5,000 per worker for the second.
It could not be determined yesterday what penalty, if any, a company would face for using a radio frequency with a lapsed FCC license.
McCarty, who succeeded Padraic M. Kennedy as Columbia Association's top official, has been criticized for not spending more time getting to know Columbians. Calling herself "deeply rooted in community building," McCarty told residents she would have preferred to focus on the more "social" aspects of the job during her first year and a half, but has been occupied with internal operations instead.
After the homeowners association stopped using the radios, McCarty said, the association switched to cell phones -- at a much higher cost to the association.
She said the group sought to purchase a new frequency, and recently secured a vendor to make the existing radio equipment compatible with that frequency.
"It's taken a long time to do it," she said. "I give that as an example because it's fixed."
McCarty has refused to comment on the I-9 issue, calling it a "personnel matter."
Kennedy, McCarty's predecessor, said he was unaware of the expired FCC license. He said Fred Pryor was the head of the open space management division at the time.
"I think you'd have to ask Fred Pryor, who was in charge of land maintenance at the time," Kennedy said. "He might know the issue."
Pryor, who retired in 1998, could not be reached yesterday.
In preparation for her annual performance evaluation April 6, McCarty wrote to Columbia Council Chairman Joseph Merke and the other council members, saying she has spent much of the year "improving internal operations, posing questions and attempting to correct many long-standing problems."
"As the Council is very well aware, there have been a number of issues that have had the potential for serious legal and financial harm to the corporation," she wrote.
"Correcting those problems has been a top priority in order to ensure the protection of the corporation," she said.
The council voted 9-1 not to increase McCarty's $130,000 salary. The board also voted 6-4 against awarding her a bonus.