Pay move annoys elections officials

County's new director would earn more than others in state

February 29, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

State election officials are prepared to pay Howard County's next election director more than those in larger Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties - and more than Howard's retiring Robert J. Antonetti Sr. sued his own board to get.

News of the proposed $58,783 salary in Howard has sparked an angry reaction among other local elections officials who are preparing for the state's first all-electronic election Tuesday.

"I'm going to fight for [my pay] to go up," said Barbara Fisher, Anne Arundel County's election director, who makes $52,794 after 27 years on the job. She oversees a county with 284,000 voters, compared with Howard's 157,000.

"We work our buns off. None of our workers have gotten anything for years," said Jacqueline K. McDaniel, director for Baltimore County, referring to the state's pay freeze. She makes $53,000 after nearly two years on the job in a county with 440,000 voters.

"It's not enough with the heartache," she said.

Pay ranges for county election directors are based on the number of voters. For example, the range for Howard County is $42,453 to $66,022, said state election board Administrator Linda H. Lamone.

Lamone did not explain why the Howard salary will increase, attributing the new amount to the "salary administrator's procedures." She is without a staff personnel specialist and can't hire one because of the state's hiring freeze, she said.

Three years ago, a general upgrade in state pay for elections officials also gave the state board the right to set salaries. But many officials feel they get too little for the work they perform - especially since Maryland's $55 million purchase last year of high-tech, touch-screen voting machines.

"Every election board employee feels like they're underpaid, especially in comparison to other state jobs," said Baltimore election director Barbara Jackson, who earns $62,000 after 38 years at the board.

Howard's election administrator's salary of $49,432 is "woefully inadequate - almost a joke," said County Executive James N. Robey.

County Councilman Ken Ulman, who won a 36-vote victory in the 2002 Democratic primary, said he knows how important election officials are.

"I think it's critical that we have a well-qualified administrator. I know what it's like to be in a close election," he said.

But Lamone defended the current scale, explaining it was "developed by the local election directors as a collaborative effort."

Elections officials in Baltimore and 18 counties are state employees, and the state sets their salaries, although local governments provide the money. Four counties - Montgomery, Prince George's, Allegany and Calvert - are exempt, and their election officials are county workers.

"I can't get a raise," said Gail L. Hatfield, election director in Calvert County, who after 18 years is making $57,000. She called election salaries there "glorified secretary's wages."

Margaret A. Jurgensen, Montgomery County's administrator who is responsible for 510,000 registered voters in the state's most populous jurisdiction, is paid $94,909.

She said the job's demands have increased greatly with the use of computers and now the touch-screen voting machines.

"Training for election judges has been notched up several levels. A lot more sophisticated skills are needed to be an effective elections administrator," Jurgensen said.

Howard County is in a pay class with Harford and Frederick counties, Lamone said, and the directors in all three counties are receiving $49,432.

But Lamone did not explain why Howard's new director will get so much more than Antonetti's pay before he settled his lawsuit and planned his March 30 retirement.

Antonetti said in his suit that Howard's board had promised him a salary of $57,500 when he was hired in 2000 after a 31-year career in the same job in Prince George's County.

But state salary rules set his pay at $43,992, and in June he sued his board for a higher salary. The suit was settled Feb. 2, but the terms were not made public.

Antonetti refused to comment on the pay issue while waiting to sign the papers for his settlement.

Once the Howard job is advertised, which should occur by April, it will take seven to 10 weeks to fill from a list of qualified applicants who take a state test. Their resumes will be reviewed and ranked by state personnel officials, Lamone said.

The Howard County election board is to make the final choice from the state-supplied list.

Election director salaries

Anne Arundel: 284,000 voters; $52,794

Baltimore City: 334,000 voters; $62,000

Baltimore: 440,000 voters; $53,000

Carroll: 93,460 voters; $44,559

Frederick: 113,215 voters; $49,432

Harford: 132,107 voters; $49,432

Howard: 157,000 voters; $49,432 ($58,783 new)

Montgomery: 510,000 voters; $94,909

Prince George's: 381,753 voters; $80,451

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