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Candidates say lesson learned in Howard case

October 28, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

At a candidates forum Friday night, Washington County Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger and Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said they have learned from criticism of the county for not releasing how much money former Economic Development Commission Director John Howard was paid when he retired.

Snook and Iseminger made the comments at a forum attended by about 75 people at the Hagerstown Community College facilities at Valley Mall.

The event for the 10 candidates for the five commissioners seats on the Nov. 5 ballot was hosted by students from a college class on state and local government in cooperation with the League of Women Voters.

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Under the forum's ground rules, only two candidates were permitted to answer each question. One of the questions posed dealt with how the county would avoid future situations similar to the Howard matter.

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.

The County Commissioners have said they could not release information about what Howard was paid when he retired because of an agreement between the county and Howard.

Iseminger said the commissioners have heard "loudly and clearly" that citizens want them held accountable for confidential agreements concerning money paid to retiring employees.

"We made a mistake. I apologize for that. I take responsibility," Iseminger said.

"I have learned from the situation also," Snook said.

After the forum Snook said he is much less likely to agree to a confidentiality agreement regarding financial information, but cautioned that each personnel situation is different.

On Sept. 5, Commissioner William J. Wivell sued the commissioners to release details of the county's financial agreement with Howard. The court has not acted on his request.

The Republican commissioner candidates are James F. Kercheval, John C. Munson, Doris J. Nipps, Snook and Wivell. The Democrats are Jim Brown, Constance S. Cramer, J. Herbert Hardin, Iseminger and Commissioners Vice President Paul L. Swartz. Hardin and Nipps are members of the Washington County Board of Education.

  • In response to other questions:

  • Brown said that, if elected, he would have county meetings televised.

  • Nipps said the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly has not brought all the state money it could to the county.

  • Cramer said the best of three sites for a possible new Washington County Hospital is by Allegheny Energy headquarters.

  • Brown and Munson said the county should put a police substation at Fort Ritchie in response to reported crime problems on the former Army base.

  • Kercheval said he opposes allowing slot machines because it would have a long-term negative effect, especially among the poor.

  • Wivell said he is open to allowing slot machines because the area loses potential revenue when people travel out of state to gamble.

  • Swartz said the county prepared for difficult financial times, including the state's projected budget deficit, by building up a reserve fund.

  • Hardin said Hagerstown is one of many cities losing businesses as companies move to the suburbs.

  • Munson said he had not given thought to how to revitalize downtown Hagerstown but he does not think big stores can be drawn to downtown Hagerstown because people want to park on streets, not parking decks.
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