Attorney Douglas must go

June 02, 2003|By BOB MAGINNIS

It's time for Washington County Attorney Richard Douglas to go. And not because he was wrong about his interpretation of Maryland's public information law.

He certainly was wrong, but he needs to go first and foremost because he didn't tell his bosses - and the citizens who pay his salary - all he knew about a former department head's severance agreement.

It's vital that the county commissioners have all the information they need about the legal matters before them, and for whatever reason, Douglas didn't give it to them.

At issue is the agreement the county government made with former Economic Development Director John Howard, who went on paid leave from his $82,000-a-year salary in March 2002, then resigned on May 8 of that year.


Douglas told the commissioners that they might be sued if they released the information, but didn't tell elected officials that the agreement barred Howard from disclosure, not the county.

On Thursday Douglas admitted that he knew that the pact didn't apply to the county, but the commissioners did not. He said the commissioners had not even seen the agreement last summer when asked by a Herald-Mail reporter whether one existed.

"I had the benefit of the agreement in front of me, and they didn't," Douglas said.

That raises questions about why the commissioners would feel bound by an agreement they hadn't even seen, but doesn't change the fact that Douglas didn't tell the commissioners all he knew - or all they needed to know.

The commissioners were victims of a sort here, but they were all too willing to choose the option of secrecy. Douglas should have been told when the agreement was negotiated that secrecy was uanacceptable.

In April, Circuit Judge Donald Beachley ruled that Douglas' interpretation of the Maryland Public Information Act was wrong.

Being wrong isn't a sin, but not telling the people who pay your salary everything they need to know is. In his position, trust is everything and with his actions, Douglas has broken it. It's time for him to go.

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