Teen says Arundel official rigged co-worker's test

Accusation is second for personnel office

September 17, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

A high-ranking Anne Arundel County personnel official is under investigation after being accused of rigging a typing test for a female friend in the county's Public Works Department by letting someone else - a teen-ager who had worked part-time for the county - take the exam in her place, The Sun has learned.

Disclosure of the inquiry comes amid a spate of bad publicity for County Executive Janet S. Owens, including a report that her hand-picked police chief intervened to help a former councilman's son who was charged with burglary.

And it marks the second time in recent weeks that a top member of the county government personnel department - responsible for guarding county employees' rights - has faced allegations of improper behavior involving another county employee.

Joseph W. Alton III, a 52-year-old senior personnel analyst and son of the county's first elected county executive, Joseph Alton Jr., administered the typing test last September on a rainy Saturday when the personnel office was empty, according to the teen-ager.

"I took the typing test for her," the 19-year-old Glen Burnie resident said Thursday, referring to Joseph W. Alton III's friend. The teen-ager spoke on the condition that she not be named. She said Alton and the woman were the only other people in the office. "I thought I was helping out a friend," she said.

After the computerized test was given last September, the 28-year-old employee's job title was upgraded from "clerk 4" to "secretary 3." While her $28,631 salary did not increase, the title put her on track to achieve higher-paying secretarial jobs.

The teen-ager detailed her allegations in a signed affidavit to the county in early July, after she and the woman had a falling-out. That led to an internal investigation involving county lawyers, the human relations officer and the county's chief administrative officer.

Repeated efforts Friday and yesterday to reach Alton at his home, by phone and through family members, were unsuccessful. He is on paid disability leave because of a knee injury, his father said. He earns $67,470 a year and oversees personnel issues for all nonpublic-safety employees in the county.

The elder Alton said he does not expect his son would return to work for the county, where he has spent the past 14 years. "I can honestly tell you he will not be working for Anne Arundel County under any circumstances," he said. "I'm very relieved he's going to be removed and away from it all."

On Aug. 25, the younger Alton was accompanied by county Chief Administrative Officer Jerome Klasmeier to Anne Arundel Community College for an "informational interview" on job possibilities there, college spokeswoman Fran Turcott said.

Klasmeier, who worked for the elder Alton's administration in the 1960s, declined to comment, but Turcott confirmed it was the first time Klasmeier had made such a visit to the college. She added that "it's not terribly unusual for someone who knows somebody else to make an introduction and say so-and-so is interested in working at the college."

Word of Klasmeier's intervention displeased Owens, according to one high-level county official. "This latest episode involving her most senior adviser has created for the county executive a problem that is not easily explained away," the official said.

Owens could not be reached for comment yesterday. Her spokesman, Andrew C. Carpenter, declined to comment about what he described as confidential personnel matters.

Owens' office has refused to release the teen-ager's affidavit. County officials did not confirm that an investigation is going on.

Alton's father said his son has never asked for special favors based on his family name. "He's always had a fear that people will think he's living off whatever influence I have," said the father, county executive from 1965 to 1974.

The former secretary, who quit her job last month after six years with the county, denied the allegation in a three-page letter to Owens that was obtained by The Sun.

"It is my understanding that the `conclusion' of your investigators is that someone else took my typing test for me," she wrote Aug. 16. "Let me state again that is absolutely not the case."

Owens' office has refused to release the letter.

A friend of the younger Alton, who asked that her name not be disclosed, said the version of events he recounted to her jibes with the former secretary's account: that Alton, the teen-ager and the former secretary were at the personnel office that Saturday, but that the teen-ager waited in the lobby while the secretary took the test.

In the earlier allegation involving personnel staff, Randall Schultz, the personnel officer, was accused by his former secretary of retaliation after she complained about his relationship with another female employee. He denies the accusation.

An official with the union that represents clerical workers said she and other leaders have little confidence in the personnel office's ability to treat employees fairly.

"I don't think anybody is watching them," said Donna Getter, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2563. "We have absolutely no faith in their ability to do what they're paid to do."

The ex-secretary told The Sun that she felt pressured by superiors to take the typing test. She said she could type 17 words a minute in the summer last year. But she practiced and, by September, she said, she had reached the required speed: 45 words a minute.

In mid-July, soon after the teen-ager complained to the county, the former secretary said, she was questioned by county officials. She said she was interrogated again on Aug. 18, under oath and with a lawyer present.

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