Montgomery County Council approves transparency for legal settlements

When Montgomery County, Maryland, is sued and decides to enter into a legal settlement, that information should be made public. That’s the idea behind the bill approved by the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday.

Bill 19-21 would require the County Attorney to submit a report each year that summarizes details of each settlement entered into by the county.

The report would then be published on the county’s website, and would have to identify the claimants in the suit, detail the dollar amount of the settlement, identify county departments of offices involved in the claim, and outline the nature of the claim.

The bill was sponsored by Council member Will Jawando, who explained on Tuesday that the legislation was prompted by several lawsuits against the county, including one filed by the mother of a 5-year-old boy, who was handcuffed and berated by Montgomery County police in January 2020.

Members of the county council said last March that they did not learn details of the incident until a year after it happened.

When Jawando submitted the bill to the council for consideration he wrote, “It is imperative that elected officials have a clear understanding of the amount of money that is being paid from County resources to settle complaints against Montgomery County employees, including police officers, as a matter of basic transparency.”

“We also prohibited nondisclosure agreements, a very important part of this law” said Jawando, who said the public should know “what happened, why it happened” in each case.

Council member Nancy Navarro said the action on the legislation was timely given the news that a former Maryland official had been indicted on charges of wire fraud and improper use of state funds.

Roy McGrath, who served as the head of the Maryland Environmental Service and worked briefly as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s chief of staff, is facing more than 30 state and federal criminal charges for wire fraud, misconduct in office and improper use of state funds, Maryland Matters reported.

“It’s very important that we are here taking up these kinds of bills that promote transparency and accountability,” Navarro said.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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