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Retirement was a 'surprise,' say board members

August 23, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Members of the Economic Development Commission board, which recommended that John Howard be hired as EDC director in 1997, said Thursday the county kept them in the dark about the developments leading to his retirement in May.

EDC Chairman Douglas S. Wright Jr., Secretary Peggy S. Bushey and member Suzanne D. Hayes said they still don't know why Howard went on administrative leave and said news of his retirement came as a surprise.

There are 11 members of the board and six ex-officio members.

"It was certainly a shock," Bushey said. "More or less we found out he had been put on leave ... and we were told basically it was none of our business."

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Wright, Bushey and Hayes said the county didn't tell them Howard was on leave until Washington County Commissioners Vice President Paul Swartz, unhappy about the action, called them.

"Next thing I knew was the announcement" of Howard's retirement, Wright said.

Swartz, who has described Howard as a valuable employee, has said he was unhappy about Howard's departure and didn't like the way the county handled the situation.

He has said he thought another county official wanted Howard to leave.

"This is wrong. I think it's being masterminded," Swartz said Thursday.

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

Wright and Hayes said Swartz called them about two or three weeks after Howard had been on leave.

"The EDC board, to the best of my knowledge, does not know what precipitated Mr. Howard's leaving, and we were told we would not know," Hayes said.

Bushey said the EDC played no role in Howard's leaving.

"I had no reason to want him to leave," Bushey said. "I don't know what happened at all, but it was nothing that was on the EDC's agenda."

She said that just because she didn't like being kept in the dark about the Howard developments doesn't mean the county did anything wrong by not telling the EDC members.

Wright said he would have preferred that the EDC board had been told about Howard's leaving.

"I think we probably should've been told, but that was outside of us. John was a county employee, and we're just an appointed board, " Wright said. "It probably would've been nice to know what was going on, and for whatever reason, we weren't told."

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