- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Hughesville resident Pauleen Brewer has filed suit against the Charles County commissioners seeking the release of mileage reports for Commissioners Reuben B. Collins II and Debra M. Davis.
According to Brewer’s complaint, filed March 14 in Charles County Circuit Court, Brewer made a Maryland Public Information Act request Jan. 3 asking for copies of any forms showing the mileage logged by Collins (D) and Davis (D) between 2010 and 2013, along with the resulting income they reported on their tax returns.
Brewer also asked for any documentation showing how often the two commissioners drove their county SUVs on official business versus personal use, as well as GPS reports tracking the total mileage of each vehicle.
The county has 30 days to respond to Brewer’s complaint. No court date has been set.
Davis is the only commissioner to currently drive a county vehicle. Collins did until his Jan. 30 arrest for drunken driving. Collins was driving his personal car at the time of his arrest, but his county vehicle privileges have been suspended and will remain so for three years should he be convicted or plead no contest to the charges. The case is set for an April 3 trial in Charles County District Court.
Brewer, Collins and Davis did not return calls seeking comment.
Brewer mentioned her most recent Public Information Act request during a town hall meeting hosted by commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) in early February. Brewer had yet to receive a response, she said.
The request has since been denied, prompting the lawsuit, said Kurt Wolfgang, a La Plata attorney representing Brewer.
Wolfgang said he suspects Brewer’s request was denied “for the same reason that governments withhold all information that they don’t want to release, and that’s because it’s embarrassing.”
“I think they’re absolutely dead wrong about not releasing this information, and I think they know it, too,” he said, noting that the information sought deals with the expenditure of public funds.
Wolfgang said the county’s classification of mileage reports as “personnel” records is “more than a huge stretch.”
“There have been a number of court decisions to determine what a personnel matter is, and the courts’ view has been very restrictive,” he said. “I don’t think the use or misuse of government vehicles is in any way going to fit into that category.”
Brewer has long sought and been denied information pertaining to commissioners’ use of county-issued, take-home vehicles.
As Kelly’s 2010 campaign manager, Brewer filed a public information request in May 2010 seeking copies of W-2 forms or wage summaries for then-Commissioners Edith J. Patterson, Gary V. Hodge, F. Wayne Cooper and Collins, according to testimony Brewer gave before a grand jury in May 2012. She told the grand jury her intention was to verify whether the commissioners were properly using and logging mileage for their county-issued SUVs.
Kelly made the commissioners’ use of county vehicles a campaign issue and as board president has continued trying to uncover any misuse.
Her efforts led Charles County State’s Attorney Anthony B. Covington (D) to conduct a grand jury investigation into whether Kelly directed a county employee to retrieve Collins’ tax forms in December 2011. Covington referred the case to the Office of the State Prosecutor, which recommended in September that Covington not pursue the case.
Rather than prosecute Kelly, Covington elected to release copies of the grand jury testimony to the Maryland Independent, per a public information request.
Wolfgang said Brewer has the same goal as she did back in May 2010 — to make sure the commissioners are not abusing their county vehicle privileges.
“It’s certainly what we’re looking for, to ensure that it’s been done correctly,” Wolfgang said. “There have certainly been rumors around that it hasn’t been done correctly, and we won’t know that for sure until we see the information, but it certainly raises suspicion that they don’t want to release it.”
Wolfgang noted that the sought documents may contain private information — Social Security numbers — but that legal precedent determines “that which is not releasable gets redacted, as opposed to a flat refusal to provide the information.”