For the rest of this week, the new county administrator will be working in what employees call "the office from hell."
They are not talking about ambience -- not that the office has any: bare walls, uglyfile cabinet, stark desk, window with a view of the parking lot.
They are talking about what happens to people who use the office.
The first occupant was one of County Executive Charles I. Ecker'sfirst fires -- let go just before last Christmas. The second person who was to occupy the office never arrived. He was hired and fired within two weeks. The third occupant was assailed by a County Council member who asked the county's chief legal adviser to determine whetherthe appointee had qualifications beyond political favoritism. The fourth occupant was assigned to the office temporarily after having been fired.
Raquel Sanudo, 48, had little choice. The "office from hell" was the only one available. But had Sanudo known of the room's history, she probably would have asked for it anyway.
Sanudo thriveson challenges. The bigger the obstacle, the more she wants to tackleit, she says. She will have plenty next Monday when she relieves Buddy Roogow as county administrator.
Employee morale is low. Forty employees were laid off and everyone else was forced to forgo raises and carry added workloads because more than 100 vacancies were left unfilled. Teachers are furious about not getting the raises in their contract. Residents will soon feel the pinch of a 14-cent increase in their property tax, probably accompanied by a decline in some services.
"There's a lot of turbulence in local government right now," Sanudo says, because of a new administration, the recession, and the demands of state and federal government.
She says her job will be to "offer a sense of stability -- addressing the needs of the community and addressing the needs of employees -- at this point in time when there is a lot of turbulence."
As county administrator, the highestappointed position in county government, Sanudo will be responsible for 10 government offices: public information, community development,economic development, personnel, transportation, purchasing, data processing, risk management, intra-governmental services and the budget. She also will function as a coordinator with other department headsand act in Ecker's stead when he is away from the county for severaldays.
"She's smart, a good money manager, is sensitive to people,and thinks things out," says former county executive William E. Eakle. "I think she will be outstanding."
Eakle and Sanudo worked together closely from 1979 to 1985 in the administration of former countyexecutive J. Hugh Nichols -- Eakle as county administrator, Sanudo as Nichols' administrative assistant.
Lawyer James Kraft, chairman of the Democratic Forum says, "Raquel's a proven person (who) was able to establish rapport with people during the Nichols' administrationand did an excellent job" the past six years as executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties.
Kraft says Ecker, a neophyte Republican, should have made Democrat Sanudo his first choice. Ecker originally had named homebuilder John C. Mardall as county administrator, but rescinded the appointment after it appearedMardall still might have business interests within the county.
The daughter of immigrant parents -- her mother a seamstress from French Morocco, her father a textile worker from Spain -- Brooklyn-born Sanudo says she learned her "conservative work-ethic" values at home. Her father
worked 10-12 hours a day, six days a week, she says. Her mother worked five days a week in addition to taking in work after hours.
After graduating from an all-girls high school in Brooklyn in 1960 -- "My parents were very conservative," she says -- Sanudo attended Long Island University, where she met her husband, Vincent.
They married in1963, moved to Randallstown in 1965 and to Ellicott City two years later. After their two children were born, Sanudo went to work part-time for the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. Nichols brought her into his administration in January 1979.
"If you're looking for a yes-person, don't hire me. I'll give you an honest response," she told Nichols during her interview that led to them working together for seven years. In the first four, Sanudo helped Nichols deal with a new landfill, jail overcrowding, a new animal shelter, road expansion, employee unions, and expanding water and sewer facilities.
As executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, she was successful in getting counties to form insurance pools to provide health insurance for employees and to protect local governments against huge liability suits.
Sanudo also was instrumental in getting the General Assembly tolimit the amount of money courts could award in suits against local governments.
Sanudo said she had accomplished what she intended in her six years with the association and wanted to return home. She says she is not worried about the Thomas Wolfe prohibition, "You can't go home again," because the "house" she will be occupying --her job as county administrator -- is a new one.
Working for a Republican executive will not be new, however. Nichols, like Ecker, switched political parties. Elected county executive twice as a Democrat, Nichols became a Republican in 1985.
Sanudo, who knew Ecker fromhis days as deputy superintendent when she was Nichols' administrative assistant, says she finds Ecker "a very caring individual -- a wonderful person to work for."
"I think we will make a good team," she says.