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Swartz: 'I'm not resigning'

Washington County Commissioners Vice President Paul Swartz, who said he was willing to resign over a disclosure of a retirement

Washington County Commissioners Vice President Paul Swartz, who said he was willing to resign over a disclosure of a retirement

August 21, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County Commissioners Vice President Paul Swartz said Tuesday he has changed his mind and decided not to resign over the secret retirement compensation the county gave former Economic Development Commission Director John Howard.

Swartz said the compensation was being kept a secret because the commissioners acted on advice from the county's two attorneys, Richard Douglas and John M. Martirano, and that the majority of the commissioners think they handled the situation poorly.

Douglas and Martirano could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

"We are guilty of not being open and honest at the time of the departure," Swartz said.

On Monday, Swartz said he'd consider quitting if the county wouldn't reveal the amount to the public.

He said he changed his mind Tuesday after receiving numerous phone calls from supporters and also because his wife and the other County Commissioners talked him out of it.

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"In my heart, I know we haven't done anything that is immoral or illegal," Swartz said. "So I'm not resigning. I'll let the voters decide."

All five commissioner seats are open in the Sept. 10 primary.

During the meeting, Swartz apologized to the commissioners and county staff for saying publicly that he would resign. He said he didn't want to harm the re-election chances of the other commissioners.

"If I have offended anyone in any manner, please accept my sincere apology," Swartz said. "This has been an excellent team, but it may appear that I have wandered from the team, and that is not the case."

"I am convinced that this group of county commissioners are of the highest integrity, and I would be happy to continue my service with all of you in any capacity," he said.

Swartz said the amount the county paid Howard should still be made public to prove that the commissioners did nothing wrong.

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

Since then, the County Commissioners and county officials have refused to disclose how much they compensated Howard as part of his retirement because they signed a confidentiality agreement with him.

Douglas has said the county can't reveal the amount because it was Howard's personal income, not salary.

Swartz said he disagreed with Douglas' argument.

"I think they're both the same," Swartz said. "I don't know how you separate them."

Swartz at first said that none of the commissioners signed a confidentiality agreement, but later said he couldn't remember signing one. He said the confidentiality agreement was the idea of Douglas and Martirano.

"We got bad advice," Swartz said. "It's making us all look bad, especially here at election time."

"It certainly puts a bad light on Mr. Howard, and it should not be, because he's not guilty of anything," Swartz said.

Swartz said the commissioners should have issued a press release and disclosed the retirement compensation at the time of Howard's resignation.

He said the county's two attorneys are to make a public statement today about whether the county will reveal the amount of Howard's payment. If the attorneys decide not to release the information, Swartz said he will stick by that advice.

"I have to stick by what they said," Swartz said. "We agreed that we will stick together."

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the commissioners discussed the issue in executive session Tuesday, but hadn't decided whether to release that information.

"We talked about it, but we didn't come to any conclusion at this point in time," Snook said.

Snook said he didn't know whether the commissioners would ever disclose the amount or discuss who signed the confidentiality agreement.

"I'm not at liberty to discuss that," Snook said. "It's a personnel issue."

Commissioner Bert Iseminger referred all questions to Douglas.

"We're being advised by the county attorney, and we have to rely on his expertise," Iseminger said. "He will release to you what he feels is appropriate. I've said really all I have to say at this time."

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