Personnel is public issue when taxes pay salaries

August 04, 2002|by LIZ THOMPSON

When the Washington County Commissioners announced the retirement of an executive director recently, The Herald-Mail had some questions county officials have so far refused to answer.

By the time the retirement was made public on June 11, Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission Executive Director John Howard had been on paid administrative leave since late March.

Human Resources Director Alan Davis and County Administrator Rodney Shoop refused to say if Howard received a retirement package, saying it was a personnel matter. County Commission President Gregory L. Snook refused to say why Howard was on leave.

Howard said he went on leave while he tried to decide his next career move.

The county appears to have paid Howard nearly four months - roughly $25,000 - of his annual salary of $82,067 to sit at home and contemplate his future. If there is also a retirement package, perhaps they paid him more than that.


It is impossible to say since, despite the fact Howard's salary comes from taxpayer money, county officials refuse to discuss the issue.

In a letter dated June 18 to Washington County attorney Richard Douglas, The Herald-Mail requested through the Maryland Public Information Act copies of all checks paid to Howard from January through June, all records pertaining to his employment status during that period and information about any compensation to be paid to Howard through the end of the calendar year.

Douglas, who represents the county in legal matters, wrote back denying the request. In his letter, Douglas would only provide the total salary Howard earned. All other information requested he said was classified under personnel matters and would not be made available.

On July 11, The Herald-Mail sent a second Public Information Act request to the county. This time, the newspaper asked for copies of any agreements between Howard and the county, in particular, any portion of such agreements which describes any payments made or to be made to Howard from January through the present.

Again, through Douglas, the request was denied. Once again Douglas said he could release the annual salary for Howard but all other information was personnel and not available for public review.


Here's the simple fact of the matter: A person can "retire" from Mack Trucks or Citicorp and their retirement package is their business and the company's business. We - and the public - have no right to that information.

But when you pay someone with tax dollars, we have every right to not only ask but to receive the details of that employee's compensation, including any retirement package. If the county commissioners - Snook, Bert Iseminger, Paul Swartz, John Schnebly and William Wivell - were willing to pay an employee who was not coming to work for nearly four months with no explanation, you have to wonder what else they were willing to do in terms of compensation.

Somewhat in jest, I asked my boss to put me on administrative leave with pay so I could decide what I wanted to do career-wise. Not in jest, he explained why that would be an irresponsible management decision and what a potentially expensive precedent it would set for the company.

My point exactly.

Liz Thompson is city editor at The Herald-Mail. You can reach her at 301-733-5131, extension 7682, or by e-mail at

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