Seven Baltimore countians and one Towson rabbit waited in the pre-dawn drizzle today for new county executive Roger B. Hayden's first, 12-hour session of constituent visits to reach it's 7 a.m. start time.
The rabbit, perched outside the county office building under the big "Face to Face" sign advertising the chance to speak personally with the executive, scampered away as a visitor approached. The seven early birds perched inside the former county council hearing room were more patient, and far less frightened.
These "Face to Face" chats, as Hayden has billed them, are in fulfillment of his campaign promise to be more accessible to ordinary citizens. He interviewed each person in private, and promised to look into their complaints, several said later.
Some who showed up today had simple requests, like the man who came to complain about junked cars littering driveways in East Towson. John Altmeyer, a county building inspector, came for a quiet little chat about a few work problems. He wouldn't elaborate.
Some had broader concerns, like Pastor Emmett Burns, a local official for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and leader of the Rising Sun First Baptist Church in Woodlawn, who came with two supporters to press Hayden about his firing of Robert L. Nealy, the only black man on former county executive Dennis F. Rasmussen's staff. Burns said he and others in the county's black community are worried that Nealy's firing may mean that Rasmussen's civil rights program may wither under Hayden.
Nealy was director of the county's 18-month-old Office of Fair Practices, created by Rasmussen to reverse what he called the county's "conservative tradition" toward civil rights.
Most of those waiting to see Hayden, however, were like Timothy Frost, 42, of Lutherville; Martin Johnson, 38, of North Point, and Jerome Shuman, 57, of Pikesville -- all lost in a bureaucratic maze.
Frost has a television satellite dish anchored in his back yard that a neighbor objects to. Johnson wanted to talk about the new road the county is forcing a developer to build next to his yard. He's against it.
Shuman's elderly parents live in a house in the first block of Hawthorne Road in Pikesville and want to build a new house on the vacant 40-foot wide lot next door. The problem, he said, is that the old lots, subdivided in 1897, are only 40 feet wide, 15 feet narrower than modern standards. Policy is that these vacant narrow lots must be applied to the house next door, if owned by the same person, to produce the modern 55-foot width standard. That, of course, makes the vacant lot useless for building. Shuman complains that his parents' lot was created before zoning laws.