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Munson continues to press for release of Howard figures

December 18, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County Commissioner John C. Munson continued Tuesday to press his case for the release of a secret agreement between the county and the county's former Economic Development Commission director.

Munson filed a motion through his attorney, Gregory C. Bannon, opposing the county's request to dismiss his lawsuit.

When he was sworn in as a commissioner on Dec. 3, Munson received a copy of the Washington County Commissioners' retirement agreement with former Economic Development Commission Director John Howard.

But simply having a copy of the secret agreement is not enough, Munson says in court papers filed Tuesday. He wants a copy of the agreement as an individual, not as a county commissioner.

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"John C. Munson, as a member of the public, requested this information and he is entitled to it as a private citizen," the filing says.

On Oct. 10 - almost a month before he was elected to the county commission - Munson filed a Public Information Act request to find out "the amount of money Mr. Howard received when he resigned or retired."

County Attorney Richard Douglas wrote back that Howard's salary when he retired was $82,067.

Other information, Douglas wrote, will not be released. As a personnel record containing "information about the finances of an individual," the contract should be withheld from the public, Douglas wrote.

Munson sued the County Commissioners on Oct. 28 - eight days before the general election - over the denial of his request.

The county argued in its motion to dismiss on Dec. 3 that Munson's suit is moot because he received the agreement.

Munson said in an interview Tuesday afternoon that he and new Commissioners James F. Kercheval and Doris J. Nipps were "set up" when copies of the agreement were left at their seats the day they took office.

Douglas declined to comment Tuesday afternoon on Bannon's latest filing, which he said he had not seen.

Another commissioner, William J. Wivell, also is suing the County Commissioners - including himself - for a copy of the agreement.

Wivell, however, did not file his own Public Information Act request first.

He has argued in court papers that the contract should be released in response to two Public Information Act requests by The Herald-Mail Co., both of which Douglas denied.

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

Wivell also has a copy of the agreement as a commissioner.

Munson said Tuesday that he hopes a ruling in Wivell's favor will allow the contract to be released.

If Wivell loses, Munson plans to proceed with his lawsuit. He said he expects a hearing on his suit to be held in February.

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