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Munson gets copy of Howard agreement

December 05, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - John C. Munson has a copy of the secret agreement for which he is suing and wants to make public, but he believes he still can't release it.

Shortly after he was sworn in as a Washington County Commissioner Tuesday, Munson received, without asking, a copy of the confidential contract between the county and former Economic Development Commission Director John Howard.

On Oct. 28, before he was elected, Munson sued the county for a copy of the agreement because his Public Information Act request was denied.

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Now, the county has asked a judge to dismiss Munson's suit because he has the information he wants.

"On December 3, 2002, the Defendant delivered to the Plaintiff a copy of the May 2002 letter/agreement between the defendant and Mr. Howard which contains a statement of the Severance Payment ..." the county's response says.

"Having received the document and/or information that he is requesting in the Complaint be disclosed to him, the issue or dispute presented in the Complaint is moot."

"Mr. Munson is now a member of the Board of County Commissioners of Washington County and as such is one of the custodians of the letter/agreement," County Attorney Richard W. Douglas wrote in an affidavit.

Told of the county's argument, Munson said he requested the agreement as a citizen, not as a county commissioner.

"That's not what I was looking for," he said.

Without a judge's ruling, Munson doesn't know if he may disseminate the contract information.

He said he will continue his fight. "I'm going to court until I get what I want," he said.

Howard went on administrative leave in late March and left his job May 8.

The county announced on June 11 that Howard had retired. The retirement agreement has been kept secret.

The county's response to Munson's suit was not filed in Washington County Circuit Court by the time the office closed Wednesday, the deadline to respond.

However, Douglas said that William McC. Schildt, the attorney representing the county in the case, mailed the response Tuesday. For a mailed response, the filing deadline is extended three days, Douglas said.

Douglas provided The Herald-Mail with a copy of the response.

Munson, James F. Kercheval and Doris J. Nipps were sworn in as commissioners Tuesday, joining incumbents William J. Wivell and Gregory I. Snook to form an all-Republican board.

Munson said he did not ask for the Howard contract as a commissioner and did not know he would get it.

Kercheval and Nipps also received copies of the agreement after they were sworn in. Nipps said it was at her place, with other papers, when she sat at the commission table.

Both said Wednesday evening that they had not read the agreement yet.

"I glanced (at) it at the very top," Kercheval said. "I saw what I expected to see."

And, he said, "To me that's an old issue."

Kercheval said he doesn't think he may release the information. Nipps said she doesn't know if she may release it because the commissioners haven't discussed it as a group.

Wivell, who already had a copy of the contract before he was sworn in for a second term, is also suing the county for a copy of it.

He has said he is worried about the county's liability if he were to release the information as a commissioner and he wants a judge's guidance.

Wivell filed his suit against the county commissioners - including himself - on Sept. 5. He asked a judge to force the county to honor two Public Information Act requests for the contract by The Herald-Mail Co.

The county has responded by saying that Wivell did not file his own Public Information Act request, so he has no standing.

A hearing on the county's motion to dismiss Wivell's suit is scheduled for Jan. 3.

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