In this office, the bosses stand a better chance of getting fired than the secretaries do.

You see, the bosses in this case are the County Commissioners, an august board of two men and a woman whose performance is rated every four years by their 50,000 or so immediate supervisors.

But for Nancy David, Peggy Conrad and Kathy Rauschenberg -- their secretaries -- job security isn't quite that tenuous.

Both David,hired by former Commissioner Jeff Griffith, and Conrad, who served as former Commissioner John L. Armacost's secretary, find themselves reporting to new bosses who have less experience in county government than they do.

David is secretary to Commissioner Vice President Elmer C. Lippy Jr. and Conrad reports to Commissioner President Donald I. Dell. Rauschenberg remains secretary to Commissioner Julia W. Gouge, a post she has held since 1989.

The three Carroll County natives describe themselves as the first line of contact -- or defense, depending on whom you talk to -- between the commissioners and the public. Each handles hundreds of phone calls a week, dozens of scheduling conflicts a day, and plenty of other tasks associated with keeping track of the county's leaders.

And while none hopes for the return of one fateful week in December 1989 -- the week of Gouge's plea for citizens to call the commissioners and tell them what they thought of a property tax increase -- they say that the three politicians keep them quite busy.

"The commissioners have so much on their shoulders," said Rauschenberg, 46. "I think one of the reasons I've been in public service is that I like being able to help people. Sometimes, when we screen calls, we can help the person calling find the answers they need."

And that's a good thing, Rauschenberg said, especially since her boss is routinely out of the office and hard to reach.

"She may not be in the office all the time, but it's certainly not a three-day week," the Westminster High School graduate said. "For Julia,it ends up being a five-, six- or seven-day week."

At the same time Rauschenberg deals with a mostly out-of-office boss, the other twoare finding Lippy and Dell to be quite the opposite.

"Why, they're almost always here," said David, 37. "And when they're not here, weknow where they are."

David was hired by Griffith in 1988, and was used to having to track her boss down. Lippy -- whom David has known since she was a child, having grown up in Manchester and graduatingfrom North Carroll High School with the commissioner's daughter -- is in his office more often than not.

And for Conrad, Dell's presence in the office is a marked contrast from Armacost, who, for much ofhis eight years, was rarely on the third floor of the County Office Building.

Conrad, 49, has worked for the county in various capacities since 1961 and has been secretary to the commissioners' presidentsince 1987.

"Donald Dell is his own person, very much like John Armacost was," she said from her small work station just beyond Dell's office door.

She thinks her 30 years of county experience gives her a chance to help Dell maneuver his way through the first couple of months of his new job.

"I wouldn't say that I'm more important, but maybe the experience gives me an edge with him," the New Windsor High School graduate said. "I can point him in the right direction, help him get to the right people."

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