The Prince George's County elections administrator is still on the job a month after a state law went into effect that was intended to make it easier for officials to replace him.
The law removed Robert J. Antonetti from the county and state merit systems for employees, stripping him of the job security he had for nearly 30 years as supervisor of elections.
But confusion over who has the authority to replace him has allowed Antonetti to survive his first month as a political appointee.
"It was our interpretation, and I can speak for the entire delegation, that he would be gone by now and we could get new leadership in there," said Del. Rushern L. Baker III (D), the chairman of the county's House delegation.
The legislators sought a change in leadership after a series of well-publicized mishaps last year in which the elections office sent out sample ballots for the general election that contained misspelled words, the wrong date for the election and the name of a board member who had died more than a year ago. The names of two Republican candidates also were omitted from some primary election ballots, and another Republican was erroneously listed on others.
Antonetti was officially reprimanded two years ago by the State Ethics Commission for hiring his wife and children to work part time for the elections office and for not reporting their employment.
The decision was overturned in February by a Prince George's County Circuit judge. The ethics commission has appealed the ruling to the state Court of Special Appeals.
Although the elections office is a state agency, it is funded by the county--as is the case in other Maryland jurisdictions. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) said that means County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) is responsible for removing Antonetti and finding a replacement.
Miller, who proposed the law, said he was trying to give county officials the tools to make the change.
"It's frustrating" that Curry has not acted, Miller said. "There was mistake after mistake during the elections, and I believe the buck stops at the top. There has got to be a change."
Curry, who has been critical of Antonetti and the elections office, said that the law is confusing and that his role in removing the elections administrator is unclear.
"No one has ever raised the subject," he said. "No one has uttered a word of it. I've meet with the delegation, and it's never been explained to me."
Antonetti said in an interview that no one has has approached him about leaving since the law was passed. "I haven't heard a word," he said. "I'm not worried about my position at all."
Legislators who have talked to Antonetti said he does not want to leave his job while his children are in college. He is one of the highest-paid elections administrators in the state, receiving more than $82,953 a year to oversee a staff of 12.
He has applied for elections chief jobs in Montgomery and Howard counties, according to board members from the neighboring jurisdictions. Both counties now have acting elections administrators.
Antonetti declined to comment on his job search.
Antonetti reports to the five-member elections board, whose members are nominated by the county's Democratic and Republican party leaders and appointed by the governor. Board President Bobbi Mack (D) said her interpretation of the new law is that Curry has the authority to remove Antonetti.
"They are tossing the ball," she said of the politicians. "Meanwhile, we have elections we have to run."
Some legislators would like to have the issue resolved and a new administrator chosen before March when the presidential primary--one of the largest elections held in the county--is scheduled to take place.
"We have a very important election coming up," said Sen. Leo E. Green (D-Prince George's). "If he is going to leave, then he should leave before then. The powers that be should resolve the situation."
Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah (D-Prince George's) said she expects to bring up the issue when the senators meet in the coming weeks in preparation for the General Assembly session that begins in January.
"I'm a little concerned we haven't moved forward," Lawlah said. "You don't want to wait and put a brand-new person at a disadvantage right before the election."
CAPTION: Robert J. Antonetti was stripped of his job security but still serves as Prince George's elections administrator.