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Hagerstown, School Board say their books are open

August 27, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Education and the City of Hagerstown are open when it comes to disclosing the dollar amounts paid to employees who leave the School Board or city, officials of both government bodies said.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan and Mayor William Breichner said that if requested by the public, the compensation paid to former employees must be provided under state law.

The Washington County Commissioners and other county officials have refused to tell the public how much the county paid former Economic Development Commission Director John Howard as part of his retirement package. The commissioners have said the payment was confidential.

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"Everyone knows those payments are available," Breichner said of the city's policy.

Breichner said he can't recall a time when the city has refused public requests relating to the compensation of employees.

"To my knowledge it hasn't happened, and I can't think of any reason why it would," he said.

Morgan said the contracts of School Board employees are public information and detail the dollar amount an employee who leaves the system will receive.

"It's made very plain and very clear in the employee's contract," Morgan said. "The contracts are public. Anybody can look at that. I can't imagine that there would be anybody who would have anything secret."

Morgan said, for example, departing School Board administrators receive $25 per day for the number of sick days they've accrued and additional compensation for any unused vacation days, up to 40 days.

She said severance pay is based on the employee's years of service.

In April 2001, before Morgan was hired, The Herald-Mail requested under the Maryland Public Information Act the amount of the payment made to former Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett, who had resigned earlier that month.

The School Board had refused to reveal the amount of the payment, but then said it paid Bartlett $35,000 for the remainder of his contract. The information was made available after The Herald-Mail filed a Public Information Act request.

School Board member J. Herbert Hardin, who was board president at the time of Bartlett's resignation, said Monday the School Board "had a feeling" it would have to disclose the amount, but that board members wanted to first wait for advice from their lawyer.

He said as soon as the School Board received the go-ahead from its lawyer, it released the amount paid to Bartlett.

"We could have dragged that out for weeks and weeks and weeks if we wanted to, but we saw no advantage to that," Hardin said.

Washington County Attorney Richard Douglas has said the amount the county paid Howard was his income, not salary, and cannot be made public.

Commissioners Vice President Paul L. Swartz and Commissioner William J. Wivell have said the amount should be made public, but that they fear they will be sued personally if they release it.

The commissioners have said the county signed a confidentiality agreement with Howard that prevents them from disclosing the amount.

Swartz and Wivell said they didn't sign the agreement but that they must abide by it.

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 was $82,067.

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