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Swartz says he'd quit over secret pay

August 20, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Washington County Commissioners Vice President Paul L. Swartz said Monday he was willing to resign over the issue of publicly releasing the amount of money former Economic Development Commission Director John Howard received as part of his retirement package.

"If I can't be open and honest with the public, if they think I am not worthy of their support," then he would resign his job, Swartz said.

"I am willing to resign if that's what (people) want ... I am willing to go that far if I have to."

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In a letter dated Monday, Swartz asked the Washington County Ethics Commission to rule on whether the ethics panel has the legal authority to reach a determination regarding the "John Howard Termination of Employment Agreement."

He also asked: "Does the Board of County Commissioners have the authority to preclude the agreement from public disclosure under the rules of conduct governing the board? If it is determined that the Board of Washington County Commissioners do not have the ability to keep the financial information contained in the agreement from the public, does their obligation to the public supersede the desires or requests of the former employee (John Howard)?"

If the ethics commission finds that he can make public the amount paid to Howard, he will do so, Swartz said.

If the ethics commission says he can't make the information public, Swartz said he would release the information anyway and probably resign his commissioner seat and drop out of the November election.

On Aug. 13, Swartz said he would try to figure out the total amount paid to Howard and release it to the public later that the week.

But he said he was told by County Attorney Richard Douglas and Howard's attorney that releasing the information would violate the confidentiality agreement between the county and Howard and could result in a lawsuit against the county.

Swartz said he then decided to seek an ethics commission ruling on the matter.

Swartz said he did not realize when he made the request that Douglas normally serves as counsel for the ethics commission.

Douglas said he or the ethics commission can request that a different attorney be called in for this matter.

Douglas said he does not think the issue of Howard's retirement package is within the jurisdiction of the ethics commission. That panel normally rules on three areas: Conflict of interest, financial disclosures and lobbying, Douglas said.

The County Commissioners appoint ethics commission members.

Swartz's question is a Maryland Public Information Act matter, not a county Ethics Ordinance issue, Douglas said.

The Herald-Mail twice requested disclosure of the amount Howard received as part of his retirement under the Maryland Public Information Act, but Douglas denied both requests.

Douglas has said that the amount could not be disclosed because it was part of Howard's personal income, not salary, and that the information was confidential.

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

Swartz said he has suggested to Howard that he sue the county over the issue so all the details would come out in court.

Howard and county officials have said Howard's decision to retire was voluntary.

Swartz said it seems to him that the county encouraged Howard to retire, although the decision by Howard to retire was voluntary.

Swartz said he could not elaborate because he would violate a confidentiality agreement between the county and Howard.

Swartz believes Howard, whom he calls a valuable county employee, has been unfairly targeted by some county officials, whom he would not name.

Howard and Swartz have taught adult Sunday school together at a local church for more than two years, Swartz said.

Neither Howard nor Dana Moylan, the chairwoman of the ethics commission, returned phone calls left Monday.

Human Resources Director Alan J. Davis said he had no comment on Swartz's remarks.

County Administrator Rodney Shoop said he can't comment on the matter because it is a personnel issue.

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