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Munson files request for Howard figures

October 11, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Washington County Commissioner candidate John Munson on Thursday filed a Maryland Public Information Act request with the Washington County government, asking that the amount of money former Economic Development Commission Director John Howard was paid when he retired be made public.

County Attorney Richard Douglas denied the request six hours later although the law allows 10 days to respond to such requests.

Munson's request - along with two similar requests by The Herald-Mail Co. - was rejected because to do otherwise would violate state law protecting employees' privacy, Douglas said.

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"I think those people should be honest and tell us what they gave Mr. Howard," Munson said. "I'm trying to put the pressure on to get this released."

"I request under the Maryland Public Information Act you release to me the amount of money Mr. Howard received when he resigned or retired as an employee of Washington County government. This money is taxpayers' money and I do have a legal right to know," Munson wrote in his request.

Told that Douglas was rejecting the request, Munson said he would talk to an attorney and might file a lawsuit against the county.

The Washington County Commissioners have said they could not release the information because of an agreement between the county and Howard.

Howard went on paid administrative leave in late March and left his job May 8. The county announced his retirement June 11. Howard's salary was $82,067.

Munson said he did not file the request until this week because he was waiting to see if the county would release the information, as he thinks it should.

While Munson is the first candidate to file a Maryland Public Information Act request for the information, commissioners Paul L. Swartz and William J. Wivell, who are seeking re-election, have said the information should be made public.

In August, Swartz said he might resign over the controversy, but he changed his mind the next day.

On Sept. 5, Wivell sued the county commissioners - including himself - asking that the county's financial agreement with Howard be released publicly.

Noting the rejections of The Herald-Mail Co.'s requests, Wivell asked a judge to order the release of the information.

In the county's response, filed Tuesday, Hagerstown attorney William McC. Schildt asks the court to dismiss Wivell's suit. Schildt argues that Wivell "lacks standing" as an aggrieved party because he hasn't filed his own Public Information Act request.

Wivell said Tuesday if a judge dismisses his suit on the grounds that he has no standing, he'd file his own Public Information Act request and start the process again.

On Wednesday, he said that might be a moot issue in light of Munson's request.

"There is no point in all of us doing it," Wivell said.

Swartz said that as a commissioner he has no problem with a citizen filing a public information request. But he said that as a candidate for office he questions the timing of Munson's request.

Munson denied that his request is related to the Nov. 5 election.

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