Columbia Association CEO Lakey Boyd is locked in a power struggle for her position.

The elected directors of the Columbia Association in Howard County have determined that the organization’s CEO has no right to appeal an annual evaluation that she says contains wildly conflicting accounts of her performance and has no actionable steps for improvement – and may be a document they are using to oust her.

Lakey Boyd, the association’s president and CEO since June 2021, said an appeal she requested in May was effectively denied last week during a tense meeting called by the chair and vice-chair of the Columbia Association board and which included an attorney the board has retained on its own, Timothy F. McCormack of Ballard Spahr.

Boyd said she was startled to enter the hastily called Nov. 16 meeting and find McCormack leading it – when she did not have her own representation. The structure and format of the meeting, she said, seemed like an attempt to coerce her into submission.   

“I received the tone and tenor… ‘Sit down’ and that ‘You have no rights’ as definitely an intent to intimidate,” Boyd said.

Boyd said she decided to stand during the meeting, which took place inside the Columbia Association headquarters where she works, and that she left after 10 minutes but was challenged by McCormack. She was accompanied by the association’s general counsel and human resources lead, and left with three-ring binders that McCormack and board leaders said represented findings that they were following proper procedure as corporate officers and Boyd had no standing to question her evaluation.

Boyd told the lawyer and board chairs that “I’m not going to stay in a meeting without representation.”

“Tim McCormack said ‘You don’t have a right to representation’,” Boyd said. “So as I am walking around the conference room table to leave, he said, ‘Are you seriously going to leave this meeting? You should not leave this meeting’ and I said ‘I do not have representation. I’m not staying in this meeting.’ “

The tense encounter is the latest development in a leadership imbroglio in Columbia, the second largest city in Maryland that is effectively governed like a huge homeowners association with more than 100,000 residents. For months, Boyd has been locked with a struggle with the Board of Directors, which appears to be taking steps to oust her for unclear reasons despite widespread community support.

Hanging in the balance is the future direction of Columbia, its inclusive outreach efforts and a $70 million budget for community amenities.

Boyd brought attention to the struggle late last month, when she publicly confronted the board about conversations that an interim CEO was being sought. The board offered no comment, and two weeks later, a huge number of supporters spoke in favor of Boyd at a Nov. 10 board meeting. Again, the board did not respond.

“Until last week, it was complete silence,” Boyd said.

Board members have indicated that they are in the midst of a personnel matter that they can’t discuss, but many Columbia leaders are looking for answers and a resolution.

“They make Columbia look like a laughing stock” said Mary Kay Sigaty, a former County Council member who was president of the Columbia Festival of the Arts from 2019 to 2021. “Columbia’s reputation is teetering….No one has identified what the problem is with her running the company.”

Some board members have been talking to others in the community, however, adding fuel to what Boyd and others are calling a “whisper campaign” against her.

One board member, Dick Boulton, who represents the village of Dorsey’s Search, attended a recent weekend public coffee-klatch discussion hosted by another board member, Bill Santos and said that the Board was taking steps to remove its CEO, citing an ethics violation by her.

That discussion prompted an emailed letter from Joan Lancos, a longtime Columbia leader who has worked for the village of Hickory Ridge, to Boyd on Nov. 9 with the subject line “Whisper Campaign.”

“Recently during a discussion, CA Board member Dick Boulton commented in passing that you, the President of CA, were being investigated for a serious breach of ethics.  Members of the community who were present for Mr. Boulton’s revelation included myself, Mary Kay Sigaty, Michael Golibersuch, and others as well as discussion host Bill Santos.  It was noted by Mr. Boulton that the matter was confidential and no further details could be provided,” Lancos wrote.

“Regardless of whether or not you are being investigated, CA Board Members should not be commenting at all on something that is supposed to be confidential information. What I find particularly upsetting is that this appears to me to be a ‘whisper campaign’ to besmirch your integrity without providing any evidence or opportunity for actual facts to be presented.  I find Mr. Boulton’s behavior to be appalling and beneath the dignity of those elected to uphold the dream and standards of James Rouse.” 

Boulton did not respond to a request for comment from Baltimore Fishbowl.

Without a true forum to address festering issues, Boyd said in an interview that she wanted correct percolating misperceptions. Four issues, she said, “are consistently coming up that have inaccurate information out there and I wanted to kind of go on the record, frankly, for my own professional reputation and ability to have a livelihood, regardless of what happens.”

The ethics complaint was also referenced during a May 2022 board of directors meeting by Russ Swatek, who has previously represented the village of Long Reach on the board of directors. Swatek said he was upset that Boyd did not release a legal settlement over a dispute about a holiday lights display.

Boyd says the debate over disclosing the documents was handled appropriately, and ultimately documents were released to the nine community members who requested them after all parties involved agreed to the release.

“I want to state on the record that I would be happy to disclose any materials, reports or decisions related to any allegation against me,” Boyd said in her Fishbowl interview. “I would be happy to disclose any materials reports, decisions that were made. And I would pose the question: would any others in the same situation, be willing to do that? Because I’d be happy to [and] I can’t make that disclosure as an as an individual.”

In addition to the ethics complaint and the legal settlement disclosure issue, Boyd said the two other concerns board members are apparently raising involve how votes by the Columbia Association corporate entity are cast during elections for board member positions, and a purported accusation that she was involved with the removal of board member Alan Klein for unilaterally altering an ethics statement without notifying anyone.

According to Susan Krabbe, senior vice president and chief financial officer of the Columbia Association, staff members realized in Spring 2021 that Klein had altered an ethics document, removing language that said he would abide by the policy, because the “margins didn’t line up” on his version compared to others. A review of the past three years found the same omission.

“It was an outrageous action, in my opinion, and he did not do it openly,” said Krabbe, who has worked for the association for 25 years and has been in her current role since 2010. Krabbe said she is concerned about “the confidence that anyone has that the ethical behaviors, as described in these policies will be followed.”  

“Will a person who chooses to modify the ethics policy keep [sensitive] information secure? Will that person act in the best interest of the organization or cast votes or make decisions in the best interest of the organization?” Krabbe said. “I just think it creates all those doubts.”

Klein was removed from the Board of Directors in 2021 by a vote of his peers [Boyd is a non-voting member of the board] but won reelection to the position in the next election, and that has prompted the other issue: claims of election interference.

For many years, the Columbia Association corporate entity has cast its corporate votes in individual village elections for director positions in favor of winning candidates – in part to make sure that the villages met a quorum requirement of 10 percent of residents casting votes. But Lakey and senior staff decided to suspend that practice in 2022 for several village elections where there were contested races. In one, Klein was again a candidate.

“The candidate pool this year required us, as an organization, to review and adjust the past practice of casting CA votes. In this specific circumstance, we determined that not casting CA’s votes presented the least amount of risk to the organization, our team members and the people we serve every day,” Boyd wrote in a public blog post.

In her Oct. 27 public comments to the board, Boyd noted that a member of her executive team had been approached by a community member, Nina Basu, who is the executive director of a related non-profit, Inner Arbor Trust, and asked the vice president if he would be willing to serve as interim president – and indication that Boyd’s ouster was imminent.

Basu and her allies have said the conversation was misconstrued and was just a catch-up between longtime friends.

But Boyd this week said that the vice president, Dennis Mattey, “called me and was clearly expressing deep concern that he was approached. I don’t understand why he would make that call if it was a passing comment.”

“And anybody that knows Dennis [knows he is] more of a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. He’s not known as a drama queen or that kind of thing. So to get that call from him as an individual, given how he’s built, for is to me further example that it was something he was deeply concerned about and felt was urgent to communicate.”

Board chair Eric Greenberg and other board members have not responded to repeated emails from Baltimore Fishbowl for comment, nor has McCormack. The board appears to have retained McCormack and his firm in the late summer, after Boyd asked for the appeal of her performance review. Ballard Spahr has since sent two invoices of approximately $12,000 per month, for a total of $24,000. The known work so far: research contained in the binders presented to Boyd, asserting the primacy of the overall corporation.

Sigaty and other supporters of Boyd say the association is micromanaging its leader, and not respecting boundaries – which has been a common refrain regarding the association for years.

“They want an administrative assistant. They don’t want a president and CEO,” Sigaty said. “The real story is the board treatment of Lakey and board members demonstrating they don’t know what their role is.”

Added Krabbe: “And and I would say that I think there’s an element of bullying that’s probably gender based, that is taking this to a new level.”

“I think we are at a pretty serious crossroads here with what is Columbia going to be?” Krabbe said. “Is it going to be looking forward and really making a difference in people’s lives who haven’t been connected and cared for in the past? Or are we going to just retrench and fall back into, you know, fifty-year-old patterns?”

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David Nitkin

David Nitkin is the Executive Editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He is an award-winning journalist, having worked as State House Bureau Chief, White House Correspondent, Politics Editor and Metropolitan Editor...

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1 Comment

  1. Can you build an editorial in the “Fishbowl” that supports the journalism work of Julian Assange who is currently imprisoned in the Belmarsh in London !!
    I thank you for making this a public issue ! Our common populace has no news of this important issue !!!?

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