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Wivell challenges motion to dismiss information suit

October 28, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell on Friday continued to press for a court order to release details of a confidential agreement between the county and a retired department head.

Wivell is suing the county commissioners to divulge the retirement package for former Economic Development Commission Executive Director John Howard.

Howard went on administrative leave in late March and left his job on May 8. The county announced his retirement on June 11.

On Friday, Wivell filed a memorandum in Washington County Circuit Court opposing the county's motion to dismiss his suit. The county will have 30 days to respond to Wivell's latest memorandum.

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Wivell, a Republican, is one of 10 candidates for the County Commission in the Nov. 5 election.

Another candidate, Republican John Munson, filed a Public Information Act request for the Howard agreement this month, but was denied.

In Wivell's latest filing, he acknowledges that he, as a county commissioner, knows the details of the agreement. He is asking a judge to order that the information be released, which could prevent him or the county from being sued.

Wivell, who is representing himself, filed his suit on Sept. 5. He contends that the county - which turned down two Public Information Act requests by The Herald-Mail Co. - should be compelled to release the terms of the contract.

Attorney William McC. Schildt, who was hired to represent the county, responded on Oct. 8 with a motion to dismiss. Schildt argues that Wivell "lacks standing" because he didn't file the Public Information Act requests.

Also, a writ of mandamus - the court order Wivell is seeking - is not appropriate for a Public Information Act case, Schildt's response says.

Wivell's newest filing argues that the Public Information Act does not prohibit the release of "information about the finances of an individual (employee), including ... income ...," which the county stated as a reason for denying Public Information Act requests.

Wivell does not directly address the county's question about his "standing." He says, though, that he is asking the court to intervene because of a concern about liability if he publicly releases details of the contract.

Wivell disputes Schildt's claim that a writ of mandamus is inappropriate.

Neither Schildt nor Wivell were immediately available for comment late Friday afternoon.

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