2021 | Government

Council committee amends settlements disclosure bill

Changes aimed at improving racial equity, transparency

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A Montgomery County Council committee on Monday made changes to a bill requiring transparency on lawsuit settlements.

Council Member Will Jawando drafted the bill, which came before the full council in May. It would require the county attorney to report annually to the County Council and the county executive the following details about lawsuit settlements:

  • Which county division was involved, and who filed the lawsuit
  • The settlement amount
  • What the lawsuit was about

Many settlements involving the county and other parties are already required, according to the state’s Public Information Act. But some are exempt, including those that involve personnel and medical records.

The annual report mandated in the bill “would provide better accessibility for taxpayers and improve regular oversight and accountability,” according to a council staff report.

Under state law, county agencies have 30 days to respond to Maryland PIA requests. 

The bill would also require the disclosure of more information than is currently in quarterly settlement reports from the county attorney’s office, staff reports stated.

On Monday, the council’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee adopted several amendments, including:

• Allowing the county attorney’s office to settle cases independently for up to $30,000. The previous limit was $5,000.

Council Member Andrew Friedson said the new limit matches the minimum public disclosure limit within civil cases in the county’s District Court, as discussed at the bill’s public hearing last month. The committee approved Friedson’s change. 

• Limiting the bill’s scope to civil rights, employment and American With Disabilities Act  discrimination cases and similar cases, at the request of County Attorney Marc Hansen. Cases involving debt collection, worker’s compensation and code enforcement could place an additional burden on his office, Hansen said Monday.

This still includes the case involving a 5-year-old boy who was harassed and assaulted by county police officers at East Silver Spring Elementary School. Some county officials, including Council President Tom Hucker and County Executive Marc Elrich, said they support settling the case.

• Requiring demographic data about claimants and employees accused of misconduct, as suggested by the Office of Legislative Oversight and the Silver Spring Justice Coalition.

The bill now heads back to the full council for review.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com