In two years of working for Baltimore County, Sue Hofstetter had never seen a real, live county executive anywhere near the hallways around her office.
Yesterday, she had lunch with one.
Ms. Hofstetter and a dozen other county workers got their first look at the new boss yesterday as County Executive Roger B. Hayden left the courthouse, crossed Chesapeake Avenue and dined on the fare available in the second-floor cafeteria of the County Office Building.
"If I knew you were coming here, I would have brought my list" of work-related complaints, Ms. Hofstetter, a Public Works Department account clerk, jokingly told Mr. Hayden as he sat down at the table next to hers.
It was not the cuisine ("Chicken Salad $2.25") that attracted Mr. Hayden. Nor was it the ambience of the tile-floored, sparsely furnished lunchroom.
It was, he said, a matter of eating with fellow county workers. He said they should occasionally get to see their chief executive in an informal setting, where they could feel comfortable airing their concerns.
"We want to make people feel that we care, that we're out there with them and that we're not so high and mighty," said Mr. Hayden, who was accompanied yesterday by Merreen Kelly, the associate school superintendent he has selected to be county administrator.
Mr. Hayden shook a few hands and got at least one warm greeting before he sat down at 12:30 p.m. yesterday to his hamburger and chips.
"Hey, whaddaya know. It's the county executive," cried an ebullient Philip A. Martin, 44, a public works engineer who described himself as a "dedicated Republican" who worked for Mr. Hayden's election.
Mr. Martin said having the new boss stop by for lunch was a welcome change from the previous administration.
"The last four years, they had built one hell of an ivory tower over there," he said.
Greg Harrer, a 13-year county employee who runs the alternative sentencing program from the sher iff's office, added that such lunchtime visits might prove a morale boost for some workers.
"I think it helps to see the top boss around," he said. "Makes people feel more involved."
The Republican executive said he intended to make such lunches a routine part of his no-frills, down-to-earth approach.
He sees them as both a management tool and a response to issues raised during his campaign.
Mr. Hayden pledged to be more accessible and more open than his Democratic predecessor, Dennis F. Rasmussen, who was criticized for spending too much time ensconced in his office and not enough time out in the streets. Mr. Rasmussen also was criticized for his use of a county-owned Lincoln Town Car.
While he intends to keep the police escort provided as security, Mr. Hayden said yesterday that he in tended to drive himself to work in a used, 1991 Ford LTD. The car will be purchased from a car rental agency for about $15,000, said Tom Robinson, the county's fleet administra-tor.
Mr. Hayden also is planning monthly open-door sessions, in Towson and at various sites throughout the county, in the weeks ahead.
"I think it's appropriate for people to see me and to say, 'Hey look, he's no different than I am,' " he said.