Election official facing a new test

Performance evaluation of administrator is Aug. 12

`Reflects poorly' on county

Battle from former job, new criticism for Antonetti

Howard County

July 25, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Still fighting state fines from ethics violations in a previous job, Howard County's elections board administrator, Robert J. Antonetti Sr., is facing a new test -- a potentially critical performance evaluation from the elections board president.

Despite an ice cream cake and congratulations offered Antonetti on his 66th birthday at Monday's board meeting, the Rev. Roland L. Howard Sr., elections board president, said he is not happy with the administrator on two counts.

Antonetti's continuing legal fight to avoid paying fines in a case that has been decided by the Court of Appeals -- Maryland's highest court -- "doesn't look good for Howard County, that we're having all this ruckus," Howard said.

In addition, Howard said, he is upset about the hiring of several temporary board employees this year without the positions being advertised. He refused to elaborate.

County Executive James N. Robey has said he believes Antonetti's legal fight "reflects poorly on Howard County."

A closed board meeting is scheduled Aug. 12 for Antonetti's annual performance review.

Howard said he has no desire to change election board administrators with statewide elections in newly redrawn districts looming Sept. 10 and Nov. 5. "We don't want to change horses midstream," he said. "We're going to do something after the election."

Yesterday, Antonetti's attorney argued before a state hearing examiner in Hunt Valley that he should not have his state wages garnished to pay a $1,250 fee for late filing of disclosure forms while he was Prince George's County's elections board administrator.

William C. Brennan, Antonetti's attorney, argued that the State Ethics Commission has no authority to use the state's central collection bureau to get the money.

The examiner, Lori Pritchard, promised a written decision within 90 days.

Antonetti is resisting efforts by state officials to collect $7,500 in ethics fines imposed by the State Ethics Commission in May 1997.

Brennan argued in court filings that the commission has no authority to collect the fine and that the state has taken too long to seek a court order to collect the money. Assistant Attorney General Michael S. Friedman has filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to skip a hearing and issue the payment order.

Friedman presented the state's case yesterday on the late fees, contending that Antonetti has not paid what he owes and that the central collections agency of state government is the appropriate body to take action.

The case stems from Antonetti's hiring of his wife and children for temporary board jobs, paying them a total of $14,000 from 1988 to 1994, and then not disclosing their employment records. He has said hiring relatives for temporary work is a common practice in Maryland, especially in election times when short-term help can be hard to find.

Antonetti, who held the administrator's job for 30 years in Prince George's before coming to Howard County two years ago, began the long legal process in 1997 by appealing the commission's fines. He won in Circuit Court and at the Court of Special Appeals, but the Court of Appeals reversed those rulings in September. When Antonetti hadn't paid up, the state went to Prince George's Circuit Court seeking a collection order.

Antonetti refused to comment on the case Monday and did not return phone calls yesterday.

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