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Swartz pledge to open records most welcome

August 16, 2002

This past Tuesday, Washington County Commissioner Paul Swartz broke through the wall of silence the county board has erected to conceal details of a department head's retirement package. Swartz, who said he'll try to reveal details later this week, deserves county citizens' thanks for his courage and candor.

In his statement, Swartz said that John Howard, the director of the county's Economic Development Commission who retired June 11, received an amount of money based on his accrued sick leave and vacation time. And Swartz said, Howard may have received severance pay.

Swartz promised to try to figure out the total amount Howard was paid and release it later this week. Some details might still have to remain secret, however, Swartz said, because they're confidential for personnel reasons.

We understand that certain parts of any employee's file - evaluations and other items that relate to performance on the job - are confidential matters. But when it comes to compensation, that's a different matter. The taxpayers provide the money and they should have the right to know how it's spent without having to go to court.

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To that end, we recommend that all candidates for county commissioner make their position clear on confidential agreements of this type. If candidates want citizens' votes, they should be willing to declare they'll be open about how taxpayers' money is spent.

Another recommendation: Have candidates for the state legislature pledge to introduce a bill that would outlaw confidential compensation agreements, when the money involved is tax revenue. By doing so they would demonstrate that they're committed to open government trust citizens enough to tell them what it costs.

As for Swartz, his decision to buck the company line on this issue may bring him some grief from his fellow commissioners. If so, we hope citizens will compensate him for that with strong expressions of support.

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