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Attorney reviews Munson info request

October 15, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Washington County Attorney Richard Douglas called Washington County Commissioners candidate John Munson Monday to tell him he accidentally gave erroneous written information to him regarding appealing a rejected Maryland Public Information Act request.

Munson filed a request Thursday morning for the amount of money former Economic Development Commission Director John Howard was paid when he retired be made public.

Douglas decided Thursday afternoon to reject the request.

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

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Douglas sent a letter Friday to Munson saying he had two options for an appeal of his decision: Request an administrative review meeting or take the matter to Washington County Circuit Court. The first option has only been in existence since Washington County adopted a policy on Public Information Act requests at a Jan. 2, 2001, meeting.

After reading the letter, Munson told the county Monday he wanted an administrative review meeting because he thought he should exhaust all avenues before possibly taking the county to court.

Munson is the first person to request an administrative review meeting, Douglas said. The law does not state who would make the decision in an administrative review meeting but he assumes it would be himself, Douglas said.

Douglas said he was doing legal research Monday afternoon to see whether he could both decide on Public Information Act requests and review its appeal or if someone else should be ruling on the appeal. If it would be inappropriate for him to do it, the county would find another attorney to hear the matter, he said.

Douglas concluded the administrative review is only an option in specific situations, such as when a person asks to inspect their personnel file, and that Munson's request is not one of them.

Douglas called Munson to inform him his letter was in error and if he wanted to appeal he only had one option: Take it to court.

Munson had not decided Monday if he was going to appeal the issue.

"I am inclined to do it but I am not 100 percent sure," he said. It depends on the cost of the lawyer, he said.

Douglas said he has changed the letter to prevent future confusion.

Munson filed two additional Public Information Act requests Friday. Douglas approved a request to publicly release the salaries of the approximately 700 county employees.

Douglas has not ruled on Munson's other request, which asks the county to release how many county employees have contracts and who they are and provide copies of those contracts.

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

On Sept. 5, Washington County Commissioner William J. 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's requests, Wivell asked a judge to order the release of the information.

The court has not acted on his request.

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