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$2.6 million settlement welcome news for city

One of the larger outrages in government today is the refusal of public officials sometimes to disclose the details of out-of-court settlements of lawsuits.

It's the public's money. The public has a right to know what happened to it, even if it involves a personnel action, such as a wrongful firing.

So bravo to Mayor Danny Jones of Charleston for refusing to play that game in the city's settlement of a longstanding legal dispute with O'Brien & Gere Engineers Inc. of New York, which designed the $6 million compost facility at Copenhaver Park in 1994.

The compost facility opened in 1998, and it is a $6 million failure.

While it can compost yard waste, the Charleston Sanitary Board cannot use the facility to compost sewage sludge, which was the main purpose of the facility.

The Sanitary Board sued the company in 2000, seeking $1.5 million.

The case finally went to trial in 2011, resulting in Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib awarding the sanitary board $1.57 million in damages and $1.06 million in interest.

The company finally agreed to pay up on Dec. 20, giving the sanitary board $2.6 million and lawyers about $900,000.

Company officials wanted city officials to sign a confidentiality agreement. The city said no.

Mayor Jones said public officials could not sign such waivers.

This rule should apply to all settlements, including those when taxpayers or customers of a municipal utility such as the sanitary board must shell out money.

If a person is willing to sue a public entity in the public courts, he should not be shy about disclosing just what he settled for.


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