Betty L. Nordaas had a close encounter with local elections this past winter and decided she liked what she saw. Now, Nordaas, 53, is the county's new elections chief.

She didn't set out to take on the job of ensuring that Howard voters have a smooth time at the polls. Nordaas retired in November from Verizon, where she had spent 35 years. She began as a customer service representative for the old C & P Telephone and eventually moved up to information technology. Most recently, she worked in network capital management.

With time on her hands, Nordaas got involved in local elections. During the winter she heeded the call for elections judges, those folks who step up periodically to help localities make the process run smoothly. Every time there is a countywide vote, Howard needs about 700 of those judges. Nordaas worked in the March 2 Maryland primary, part of Super Tuesday in this year's presidential contest.

"It was very rewarding. I really enjoyed it," Nordaas told reporters Monday when her appointment was announced.

Soon afterward, Nordaas learned that the county job of election chief was coming open. She applied and was picked from 31 applicants interviewed by the Board of Elections. She will be paid $55,164 to oversee a staff of seven in the elections office in Columbia. Nordaas replaces Robert J. Antonetti Sr., who retired March 31 after 3 1/2 years on the job.

A 24-year resident of Howard County, Nordaas holds a bachelor's degree in business from the University of Maryland and a master's degree in information technology management from Johns Hopkins University. She grew up in Oxon Hill in Prince George's County and lives with her husband, Arnstein, and son Jeffrey on Owen Brown Road in Columbia.

Nordaas's management experience and background in information technology should be important in the high-tech era of touch screen voting, said Howard elections board President Guy L. Harriman. Unlike some jurisdictions, Howard has experienced few problems with touch screen voting, Harriman said.

Nordaas said that was her impression when she worked as an elections judge. "People needed guidance . . . but most people felt great about it. . . . They were so excited and so proud of themselves."

Getting Advice on Pavilion

County officials are finalizing a contract with a Baltimore firm to become the consultant on the future of Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Jim Vannoy, special assistant to County Executive James N. Robey (D), said the deal should be inked soon with Ziger/Snead. Among other things, the company will be asked to examine the markets for the existing outdoor concert venue that seats 19,000 and for an enclosed, smaller theater that the Rouse Co. has proposed as a condition of a sale to the county.

Dennis W. Miller, a Rouse Co. vice president, said Rouse wants county officials to make a decision by the end of the year. It has other potential buyers if the county decides not to purchase the site, he said. Merriweather is valued at about $4.2 million, according to state property tax records. Rouse won't say what its asking price is.

In the meantime, a community panel appointed by Robey to advise the county on the wisdom of purchasing the 37-year-old amphitheater will hold it second meeting Wednesday. The panel is planning to tour the 10-acre site and talk further with Merriweather officials. Rouse and Merriweather officials have said the amphitheater has had a stronger season this year than last.

The panel is headed by Rand Griffin, head of Corporate Office Properties Trust, a real estate investment firm. After last month's announcement that Rouse was being sold to General Growth Properties, a Chicago firm specializing in shopping malls, Corporate Office Properties expressed interest in buying some of the Rouse-owned office buildings in Columbia.

Meanwhile, a local group of Merriweather aficionados has incorporated as a nonprofit, Save Merriweather Inc. "The next few months will be a major turning point for Merriweather Post Pavilion," said Ian Kennedy, president and co-founder.

The group believes that Merriweather should "continue to serve as a regional entertainment center for residents of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area and should stand as the cultural anchor of Columbia's" Town Center, Kennedy said.

At least one representative plans to testify during a County Council hearing next Thursday about possible zoning changes for Columbia and to comment during an Oct. 5 planning board meeting on a Rouse Co. proposal to develop 51 acres next to Merriweather Post.