Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden put a clamp on communications between County Council members and county departments heads this week, requiring council members to go through one of his deputies when they try to resolve a constituent complaint.
Council members said they were told this week that for the next 30 days rather than deal directly with departments in trying to help callers they should refer complaints to Nicholas Spinnato, a member of the Republican executive's personal staff.
Mr. Spinnato, in turn, will call department heads to resolve the matter, Mr. Hayden said.
County employees were told to set up meetings with council members through Mr. Spinnato.
In Baltimore, an outcry by city council members about a similar policy put in effect by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke put the mayor on the defensive last March. The mayor later said that the outcry was based on the misinterpretation of a subordinate's memo and that he never intended to interfere in council's involvement in the routine delivery of constituent services.
Mr. Hayden said last night that he took the step as a management tool necessary to monitor the amount of county staff time and money spent on handling constituent complaints.
He said the policy probably would remain in effect for 30 days.
"We want to see what kind of volume of questions we're getting in and get a feel for if it's had any real impact on costs," Mr. Hayden said.
He said he did not expect it to hamper council members efforts to serve constituents.
"There's no information that they [council members] were getting before that they can't get now."
The move was greeted cooly by most council members because it means that just about every constituent-service-related task -- considered the bread and butter for most elective office holders -- will be handled in part by the executive's office.
"It's going to make things kind of cumbersome," said Councilman Vincent Gardina, D-5th.
He said he was informed of the policy this week by a department head who showed him a memo that directed council inquiries to Mr. Spinnato.
Councilman C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-3rd, whose northern county district is the largest geographically, said he agreed to Mr. Hayden's request to try the policy for 30 days. Councilmen William A. Howard IV, R-6th, and Donald Mason, D-7th, two fiscal conservatives who have been allied in the past with Mr. Hayden, said they will only be concerned if the policy slows down services to taxpayers.