Responding to questions about bonuses that Deborah O. McCarty awarded in her last days as Columbia Association president, the Columbia Council has decided not to launch an investigation for now but will conduct a general review of procedures that apply to departing officials.
The council voted last week, after a closed-door session with a lawyer, to have its audit committee determine what policies and procedures are in place to review the actions of officers who leave the organization.
The council took up the issue at the request of Councilwoman Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills, who had expressed concern about a total of $8,000 in bonuses that she said Deborah O. McCarty awarded to three employees in her last days as Columbia Association president.
Concerned that her questions might be construed as an attack on McCarty, Russell later stressed that she simply wanted to know what, if any, steps are normally taken to review the financial and administrative actions of exiting officials.
McCarty left the Columbia Association under pressure in May after 20 months in office.
The council has not ruled out investigating whether the policies and procedures were followed in McCarty's case, but council members stressed that the review they've called for is more general than that.
The council met in executive session Thursday for more than an hour with attorney David H. Bamberger. On a written form, the council said it had closed the session "to consult with legal counsel on legal/personnel matter."
"Among other things discussed in executive session, this issue of the exit audit did come up," said Councilwoman Donna Rice of Town Center.
"Generally speaking, exit audits can be discussed in public," she said. "But with this particular one, because there was some litigation involved with the exit of the past president, it was perhaps thought we should treat it in a different way. Because it might be construed as being a witch hunt."
Asked what litigation she was referring to, Rice said the council was concerned about a potential lawsuit from McCarty.
McCarty received $200,000 in severance, but preserved her right to sue the association if its officials made "inflammatory statements" about her, according to two sources familiar with the terms of her departure.
"We don't want to get into a position where we might be treading on some gray area that might result in some type of litigation," Rice said. "It's more of a precautionary kind of thing than anything else.
"It's not that anybody's running from her [McCarty], but we don't even want to revisit her again if it isn't necessary," said Rice.
"We just have to be cautious," she added. "We don't want to get bogged down in something litigious that will cost the homeowners a lot of money."
After the executive session, the council voted unanimously to have its audit committee review what policies and procedures apply when a Columbia Association president or vice president leaves.
Councilman Miles Coffman of Hickory Ridge chairs the audit committee. Rice and Councilman Robert Conors of Dorsey's Search are the committee's other members.
Coffman said the audit committee will not investigate the specific actions of McCarty or any other recently departed association officials. "It's purely a policy review," he said.
Once the policies and procedures are determined, Councilman Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance said the next step will be to determine if they've been followed recently - though not necessarily in McCarty's case.
"I don't think we're going to go back to 1967, but we may go back a month or two or we may go back [further]," he said.
"This has nothing to do with Debby McCarty per se," Halpin added.
Shortly before her resignation, McCarty awarded a $6,000 bonus to acting Association President Charles Rhodehamel, who also serves as the association's vice president for open-space management, Russell has said. She has also said a total of $2,000 went to two other association employees, whom she declined to identify.
Russell has questioned McCarty's authority to give out such bonuses, though several other council members have said the association has a long history of awarding them to employees.