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Another suit filed over pact

January 08, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A former Clear Spring resident sued Washington County on Tuesday for a copy of a confidential retirement agreement with a former county employee.

Thomas Firey is the third person to sue for the public disclosure of former Economic Development Commission Director John Howard's retirement contract.

On Friday, a judge dismissed the first suit, which was filed by Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell.

Commissioner John Munson filed the second suit in October, before he was elected. A hearing on his suit is scheduled for Feb. 7.

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Firey filed a Maryland Public Information Act request for a copy of the agreement on Dec. 11. A week later, County Attorney Richard Douglas rejected the request, saying the information was part of a personnel record and therefore confidential.

In his lawsuit, Firey disagrees.

"Far from being a private matter, like a retirement plan, the agreement clearly involved county officials and employees, and apparently involved the expenditure of county money," the suit says.

In a lawsuit prepared with the help of a few friends who are lawyers, Firey cited a 1998 Maryland attorney general's opinion that says the amounts of government employee bonuses are open records.

"I think it's important for people to know the cost of government," he said.

Despite moving from his native Washington County two years ago, Firey, who lives in Alexandria, Va., said he still follows county issues closely.

Firey said his employer, the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit public policy organization, is not connected to the lawsuit.

However, the Maryland Public Policy Institute in Germantown, Md., is supporting his lawsuit as an open-government initiative, he said.

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