A high-ranking Anne Arundel County personnel official is under investigation for allegedly rigging a typing test for a female friend in the county's Public Works Department by letting someone else - a teen-ager who had worked part-time for the county - take the exam in her place, The Sun has learned.
Revelation of the inquiry comes amid a spate of bad publicity for County Executive Janet S. Owens, including a report that her hand-picked police chief intervened to help a former councilman's son who was charged with burglary.
And it marks the second time in recent weeks that a top member of the county government personnel department - responsible for guarding county employees' rights - has faced allegations of improper behavior involving another county employee.
Joseph W. Alton III, a 52-year-old senior personnel analyst and son of the county's first elected county executive, Joseph Alton Jr., administered the typing test last September on a rainy Saturday when the personnel office was empty, according to the teen-ager.
"I took the typing test for her," the 19-year-old Glen Burnie resident said Thursday, referring to Joseph W. Alton III's friend. The teen-ager spoke on the condition that she not be named. She said Alton and the woman were the only other people in the office. "I thought I was helping out a friend," she said.
After the computerized test was given last September, the 28-year-old employee's job title was upgraded from "clerk 4" to "secretary 3." While her $28,631 salary did not increase, the title put her on track to achieve higher-paying secretarial jobs.
The teen-ager detailed her allegations in a signed affidavit to the county in early July, after she and the woman had a falling-out. That led to an internal investigation involving county lawyers, the human relations officer and the county's chief administrative officer.
Repeated efforts Friday and yesterday to reach Alton at his home, by phone and through family members, were unsuccessful. He is on paid disability leave because of a knee injury, his father said. He earns $67,470 a year and oversees personnel issues for all nonpublic safety employees in the county.
There have been signs Alton may be on the way out. On Aug. 25, he was accompanied by county Chief Administrative Officer Jerome Klasmeier to Anne Arundel Community College for an "informational interview" on job possibilities there, said college spokeswoman Fran Turcott.
Klasmeier, who worked for the elder Alton's administration in the 1960s, declined to comment, but Turcott confirmed it was the first time Klasmeier had made such a visit to the college. She added that "it's not terribly unusual for someone who knows somebody else to make an introduction and say so-and-so is interested in working at the college."
Word of Klasmeier's intervention has displeased Owens, according to one high-level county official. "This latest episode involving her most senior adviser has created for the county executive a problem that is not easily explained away," the official said.
Owens could not be reached for comment yesterday. Her spokesman, Andrew C. Carpenter, declined to comment about what he described as confidential personnel matters. Owens' office has refused to release the teen-ager's affidavit. County officials did not confirm that an investigation is going on.
Alton's father said his son has never asked for special favors based on his last name. "He's always had a fear that people will think he's living off whatever influence I have," said the father, who served as county executive from 1965 to 1974.
He said he does not expect his son will return to work for the county, where he has spent the past 14 years. "I can honestly tell you he will not be working for Anne Arundel County under any circumstances," he said. He added: "I'm very relieved he's going to be removed and away from it all."
The former secretary, who quit her job last month after six years with the county, denied the allegation in a three-page letter to Owens that was obtained by The Sun.
"It is my understanding that the 'conclusion' of your investigators is that someone else took my typing test for me," she wrote Aug. 16. "Let me state again that is absolutely not the case."
Owens' office has refused to release the letter.
A friend of the younger Alton, who asked that her name not be disclosed, said the version of events he recounted to her jibes with the former secretary's account: that Alton, the teen-ager and the former secretary were at the personnel office that Saturday, but that the teen-ager waited in the lobby as the secretary took the test.
The situation is causing yet another political headache for Owens.
Police Chief Thomas Shanahan has come under criticism for releasing, without a bail hearing, the son of former county councilman Michael F. Gilligan after the son was charged with burglary. Last month, the former supervisor of the county government warehouse was charged with making thousands of dollars in personal purchases using his county-issued credit card.
Owens caught flak after recent disclosures that she approved the transfer of a 16-acre floodplain from the county to a country club partly owned by her campaign treasurer. County lawyers said the transaction was proper.
In addition, the county's personnel officer, Randall Schultz, has been accused by his former secretary of retaliation after she complained to Schultz about his alleged close relationship with another female employee. He denies the accusation; an arbitration hearing has not yet been scheduled.
An official with the union that represents clerical workers said she and other leaders have little confidence in the personnel office's ability to treat employees fairly.
"I don't think anybody is watching them," said Donna Getter, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2563. "Nobody in the county appears to be saying to them, 'How come all these problems are occurring?' ... We have absolutely no faith in their ability to do what they're paid to do."
The former secretary said she got to know Joseph Alton III soon after going to work for the county in 1992 as a maintenance worker. She had a job-related problem and he helped her, she said.
The former secretary told The Sun that she felt pressured by superiors to take the typing test. She said she could type 17 words a minute in late June or July 1999. But by September, she said, she had practiced and had reached the threshold needed to pass: 45 words a minute.
The teen-ager said the woman, whom she considered a friend, asked her to take the test for her.
In mid-July, soon after the teen-ager complained to the county, the former secretary said, she was questioned by county officials. She said she was interrogated again on Aug. 18, that time under oath and with a lawyer.
No matter who took the test, the circumstances under which it was given appear to be unusual. While solo typing tests are sometimes given on weekends, Schultz, the personnel officer, said those arrangements are mainly for people who work far away or lack transportation during normal business hours. The former secretary's office was a short walk from the personnel office.
In a case like hers, Schultz said, "It wouldn't appear to be a problem testing them during working hours."