Agency issues order on public disclosures

Injured workers fund warns employees about unauthorized releases

January 19, 1999|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

The head of the state Injured Workers Insurance Fund has issued an edict to the agency's employees, warning them that they could face criminal penalties if they make unauthorized disclosures to the press or public.

Paul M. Rose, president of the agency, issued the order last week after a series of articles critical of the agency were published recently in The Sun. The stories, which Rose noted in his memo, quoted from internal IWIF documents, including the minutes of IWIF governing board executive sessions and inspection reports for IWIF owned and leased vehicles.

The stories centered on a no-bid $21 million contract that the agency awarded to the Statutory Benefits Management Corp. in 1996. The IWIF board recently rejected a proposal to extend that contract for another year.

IWIF, created by an act of the state legislature in 1914, is run by a board appointed by the governor. Though independent of other state agencies, IWIF is subject to the state open meetings law, the state public records law and state ethics laws.

In the Jan. 12 memo, titled "Disclosures of Information to the Public," Rose told IWIF employees that while in some cases state law requires information to be disclosed, "In other circumstances, the law imposes criminal and civil penalties upon a person who wrongfully discloses information.

"We need to take steps to protect both you and IWIF from civil and criminal liability," the memo continues. "Due to the complex nature of the law, you cannot be expected to know when information should be disclosed or not disclosed."

The directive instructs IWIF employees not to provide "copies of documents obtained or produced at IWIF" to reporters, but to refer any requests for such records to Rose. Other questions regarding disclosure are to be referred to IWIF attorneys, according to the memo.

"Please resist the temptation to discuss details of what goes on at IWIF with anyone outside the organization," the five-paragraph memo states.

"Thanks," the memo concludes, "for giving me your cooperation to safeguard you and IWIF."

IWIF board chairman Daniel McKew said yesterday that he was not aware of the memo until it was brought to his attention by a reporter. He said he could not comment on it until he had a chance to review it.

Asked about the memo, Rose said it was "pretty much self-explanatory."

"It was not meant to curtail the release of information. We just want the right information out there," Rose said.

He said the memo would not bar IWIF employees from disclosing "business" information to current or potential customers. IWIF sells workers' compensation insurance to thousands of Maryland companies.

Asked if the state law imposed penalties for refusing to disclose information not specifically exempted, Rose said, "Yes, it's kind of a double-edged sword."

Pub Date: 1/19/99

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