Howard agreement controversy continues to linger

December 06, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County Commissioner John C. Munson said Thursday he will continue fighting for the public release of a secret agreement between the county and former Economic Development Commission Director John Howard.

Munson sued the Board of Washington County Commissioners on Oct. 28 - eight days before the general election - for a copy of the agreement. The county had previously turned down his Public Information Act request.

The county argued in its written response to Munson's lawsuit that he received a copy of the contract when he became a commissioner on Tuesday, so his suit seeking a copy is moot.


Munson said Thursday that he has consulted with his attorney, Gregory C. Bannon, who agrees that he shouldn't give up.

"It's not moot," Munson said.

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

County Attorney Richard Douglas said the agreement was between the Board of County Commissioners - the entity, not the people serving on it - and Howard.

Munson and new Commissioners James F. Kercheval and Doris J. Nipps received, unsolicited, a copy of the Howard agreement after they were sworn in on Tuesday.

Munson made public access part of his campaign. But as a county commissioner, his position is the same as that of the other commissioners: Releasing the contract could invite a lawsuit against the county.

If he had a copy of the agreement before he took the oath of office, he would have disseminated the information, Munson said.

Although they are no longer commissioners, Bert L. Iseminger and Paul L. Swartz said they don't feel they can release the contract.

"I would think I'm still bound by the oath that I took as a commissioner," Iseminger said.

Swartz said he regrets that he didn't release the information and resign from the board, which he had vowed to do in August. He changed his mind the next day.

Swartz said his wife threatened to leave him if he resigned. He didn't want to see if she was bluffing, so he withdrew his threat, he said.

Voted out of office last month, Swartz said he'll stand on the sidelines for now.

"I'm still sort of stinging from the election to the degree that probably my best bet is ... I'll just fade out," he said.

Former Commissioner John L. Schnebly said he didn't know if he could release the agreement now that he has left office.

Schnebly has not criticized the secrecy of the agreement as Swartz and Iseminger have.

Schnebly said Thursday that other considerations tied to the agreement "significantly overshadowed the public's interests" in having the information.

Commissioner William J. Wivell is also suing the Board of County Commissioners - including himself - for the release of the contract. The county has moved to dismiss his case, too.

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