Elections job salary is cut by $13,000

Md. law won't allow a local pay increase

Howard County

July 26, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Robert J. Antonetti is still expected to be Howard County's new election board administrator, but he'll earn at least $13,000 a year less than first announced, according to county and state officials.

The controversial, 64-year-old Prince George's County elections official is due to begin his new job in Howard County in two weeks, regardless of pay, said Antonetti's wife, Casey, and the Rev. Roland L. Howard, chairman of the Howard board.

Antonetti was traveling yesterday and not available for comment.

"I can say that with certainty, that he will come to Howard," Mrs. Antonetti said.

Her husband, who earns $84,000 a year in his Prince George's County job, was to earn $57,000 in Howard County, officials said last week.

But Howard said that a state law that took effect July 1 won't allow Howard County to supplement the administrator's salary, which is set by the state election board. That amount is $39,250, though Linda Lamone, state board administrator, said she will ask that the salary be increased to $43,992, in light of Antonetti's experience.

That would match election board pay in Harford and Frederick counties, which have about the same number of voters as Howard County. The Howard salary was initially set lower because the job was vacant. Lamone said.

Howard County Executive James N. Robey had agreed to subsidize a raise for the administrator to attract more qualified candidates for the job, which has been vacant for a year.

But Lamone said the new law set higher pay rates for all local election board employees in Maryland, except for the four counties that operate their own systems - Prince George's, Montgomery, Calvert and Allegany. The statewide pay scale is based on the size of the jurisdiction, ranging from $34,500 for the smallest counties, to $61,340 for veteran Baltimore County Administrator Doris Suter.

Some Howard officials worry that Antonetti, whose office issued faulty primary ballots in 1998 and who hired his wife and children to temporary board jobs in 1994, could upset what has been a relatively smooth election system.

"I'm glad they have a six-month probation period. Howard has a long record of well-run elections. We've never had anything but a professionally run election," said state Sen. Martin G. Madden. The Senate Republican leader represents parts of Howard and Prince George's counties.

The faulty 1998 Prince George's primary ballots left off the names of two unopposed Republican candidates. Some sample ballots mailed to voters that same year had misspelled words, the wrong election date and the name of an elections board member who had died a year earlier.

Critics accuse Antonetti of arrogance and of being reluctant to accept responsibility for errors. But they concede that after 31 years running the board in PrinceGeorge's County, Antonetti knows the business.

"He was demanding and lost his temper over minor things," said Judith Wheatley, former Prince George's board president.

Daniel J. Earnshaw, a former state elections board member, publicly feuded with Antonetti in 1994 when Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey almost won the governorship. Earnshaw, a self-described Republican zealot, called Antonetti "a product of Democratic machine politics" who ruled his staff "with an iron hand. They would sit there and cower."

But Marcia Krasnick, a retired longtime Democratic party activist in Prince George's and an Antonetti friend and admirer, defended him.

"He's an excellent choice [for Howard]. He's very careful, very methodical. It's Howard's gain and Prince George's loss."

Antonetti said he was leaving Prince George's County after the local General Assembly delegation removed his job from the county's merit system. He accused county politicians of trying to control his job and said he wants the Howard job, which is in the state's civil service system, to escape that.

Antonetti claimed his hiring relatives for temporary board work is a common practice in Maryland. He said the 1998 ballot errors weren't all his fault and were an isolated aberration.

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