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Candidates Fess up on Howard's pay

August 16, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Most of the candidates running for a Washington County Commissioner seat said they have a message for the current board: It's time to fess up.

The candidates said they think the commissioners should not keep secret the amount the county paid former Economic Development Commission Director John Howard as part of his retirement.

"Hey boys, come clean," said Democrat Ira P. Kauffman Jr. "Any time you spend one tax dollar, it's public information. It isn't the commissioners' money, it's yours and mine."

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Of the 17 nonincumbent candidates, 10 said the spending of taxpayers' dollars should not be kept private. One candidate said the dollar amount Howard received should not be revealed, another said she had no comment. The remaining five candidates could not be reached for comment.

"The money that (Howard) gets paid is coming from the taxpayers, so they have the right to know. They're not in private practice, and they are accountable to the people who elected them," Republican Jaime Trujillo said of the commissioners.

Trujillo said he thinks the commissioners handled the situation poorly.

Howard had been on paid administrative leave since late March and retired May 8. The county announced his retirement on June 11. His annual salary at the time of his retirement was $82,067.

With the exception of Commissioners Vice President Paul Swartz, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook, Commissioners John L. Schnebly, Bert Iseminger, William J. Wivell and county officials have refused to disclose the amount of Howard's compensation, saying the matter was confidential.

Swartz said earlier this week that he didn't think the payment was a secret and that he would try to determine the amount and release it later this week.

Democrat Jim Brown was the only candidate contacted who said he thinks John Howard has been unnecessarily picked on. He said he's confident the commissioners made an appropriate deal.

"I have enough confidence in our county commissioners that they would do the right thing," Brown said. "I don't have to know what John Howard got, because I'm sure they were fair to him and fair to the citizens."

Brown said he thinks the public should only be told the amount of time Howard's compensation covers, not the dollar amount.

"We're dragging John Howard through the coals, and it's not necessary. It's unfair."

Republican John C. Munson said he thought the commissioners' secrecy is wrong.

"It's taxpayers' dollars ... it ought to be divulged to the public," Munson said. "The county doesn't have a penny. What they spend is our money."

"The law says that it is public information," Republican candidate Vikki Nelson said of the amount Howard was compensated. "Disclose the information and be done with it."

"It certainly doesn't build public confidence in their (commissioners) service," Republican Stephen C. Palmer said.

Palmer said the amount given to Howard should be made public because the citizens paid for it. "That info is public knowledge," he said.

William R. Russell Sr., a Republican, said he hadn't yet formed an opinion on whether Howard's financial compensation should be disclosed, but said the spending of taxpayers' dollars should not be kept secret.

Democrat Constance S. Cramer said the county should reveal the amount given to Howard.

"I'd like to know why it's such a big secret," she said. "It sounds like good ol' boy politics, and that's what we don't need in Washington County."

Republican Doris J. Nipps said she didn't have a comment on the situation because it was a "county personnel issue."

Republican Harold "Hal" Phillips said his opinion on the Howard situation was a "no-brainer."

"Clearly that transaction should be transparent to the public," Phillips said.

Phillips said the commissioners should disclose the dollar amount as quickly as possible. "What's the deep, dark secret?" he said. "They need to get it behind them."

Democrat Kurt Redenbo called the commissioners' actions "disgraceful" and "ridiculous." He said the county should reveal the amount of compensation given to Howard.

"I would tell them that what they've done is shameful," Redenbo said. "It makes no sense at all."

Millard "Junior" Miller, a Democrat, also said the commissioners should disclose how much the county paid Howard.

"In my opinion, the taxpayers of Washington County aren't stupid, and they are tired of being treated like they're stupid," Miller said. "Be truthful about it. Get it over with. Quit beating around the bush."

Candidates James F. Kercheval, J. Wallace McClure, Ron Rowe, Paul Henry Toothman and J. Herbert Hardin could not be reached for comment.

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