As Hayden names staff, black leaders are wary

December 25, 1990|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

African-American leaders say they are concerned that Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden has yet to hire a black in filling 10 key positions, and they worry about how he will deal with the black community.

African-Americans say Mr. Hayden, who has been in office three weeks, has sent out a negative signal in dismissing Robert L. Nealy from the executive staff and terminating the position Mr. Nealy held for $58,361 a year -- director of fair practices.

Mr. Nealy, who is black, lost his job along with a half-dozen other key aides who worked for the re-election of former Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen and were let go by the new GOP executive.

Mr. Hayden also has fired four department heads and has brought in a new county administrator and new fire chief.

Mr. Nealy's dismissal leaves Adrienne Jones, director of the Office of Minority Affairs, as the only African-American on the county executive's staff.

Mr. Hayden said last week that he intended to make sure the county government worked hard at addressing issues of concern to African-Americans and that he hoped to bolster his hTC personal rapport and working relationship with the minority community.

"We're going to build on the relationships and make them better than they've ever been," Mr. Hayden said.

He said that Mr. Nealy's position was abolished to make government more efficient and that many of Mr. Nealy's duties would be assumed by Ms. Jones. He added that her exact responsibilities would be worked out after he met in a week or so with her and Merreen Kelly, county administrator.

He also plans to meet periodically, as former County Executive DonaldHutchinson did, with minority employees to discuss their concerns and intends to work closely with the various boards and commissions set up to address minority concerns.

"Any time we can have an informed group of people meet with us and give us advice, we're going to take the time to listen," he said.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the county in 1978, charging the county with failing to hire and promote a sufficient number of minorities. The suit was filed after county figures showed that only 3.1 percent of the government's labor force was African-American, that most were assigned to low-paying service and maintenance jobs and that they were not promoted on an equal basis with whites.

The suit was settled in 1980 when the county agreed to seek more minority applicants for professional and technical jobs.

As of last January, 10 percent of the county's 8,217 government jobs were filled by minorities, personnel records show. Baltimore County currently has a population of 687,900 and an African-American population of 75,000.

African-American leaders say Mr. Hayden needs time to build alliances and clarify his priorities.

"Roger Hayden's in a new political ballgame, and the concerns may be out there because he's new in the job," said Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.-7th.

But some leaders also fear that Mr. Hayden may diminish what was accomplished under the Democratic administrations of Mr. Rasmussen and Mr. Hutchinson in terms of minority hiring and ensuring that minorities got a fair share of county contracts and appointments.

"We don't want to step back racially in this county," said Emmett Burns, pastor of the Rising Sun First Baptist Church in Woodlawn. "There are qualified black people out there."

Dunbar Brooks, a member of the county Board of Education and a community activist in Turners Station, said he discussed those concerns when he met a week ago with Mr. Hayden at the county executive's daylong, open-door session with county residents.

"There's very deep concern that the things that were built up in the last administration, that they continue to be maintained and supported," he said.

He cited the Office of Fair Practices, which was initiated by Mr. Rasmussen and the beefing up of the county Human Relations Commission, which under Mr. Rasmussen won the right to subpoena witnesses in investigating discrimination complaints.

"We really have to take a wait-and-see attitude," he said. "We still don't know if our worst fears are going to be realized."

James Pennington, president of the Baltimore County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he hoped to meet with Mr. Hayden in the next few weeks to discuss his hiring practices.

"We feel that he has an image that he has not represented our interests," Mr. Pennington said.

"I'm hoping that this image will change," Mr. Pennington said.

The Rev. Avery Penn, pastor of the Mount Olive Baptist Church, said that during the previous administration he always felt comfortable that his concerns about growth in East Towson were being heeded.

"Under Rasmussen we felt we had no problems, and we had someone who was listening," said Mr. Penn.

"With Mr. Hayden, we don't know where he stands. We don't know if he's for us or against us, or if he could care less," Mr. Penn added.

He said Mr. Hayden assured him in a meeting at the open-door session that he intended to work with the African-American community. But he said the executive offered few specifics.

"I'm still somewhat bewildered and perplexed as to what to expect from him," Mr. Penn said.

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