Balto. Co office gets reshuffled

February 15, 1991|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden's dismantling of county government's Office of Communications is now fTC complete, although some have criticized the results as little more than a shell-game shuffle of employees to other departments.

Hayden, who during the election held up the office as a prime symbol of alleged government fat and self-aggrandizement under then-Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, had pledged to cut back the office budget and its staff to 1986 levels.

He appointed Carol L. Hirschburg, a campaign manager for Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, to the $63,500-a-year post to head the office. Hirschburg subsequently removed 10 of the 11 people originally in the office.

Hirschburg has hired two Republican campaign workers, however, and six of the employees in the old office are now working at other county jobs, some doing the same type of work.

One worker, for example, transferred to the county Department of Aging, continues to produce the county's in-house newsletter called "Focus," despite her new location.

Hirschburg has requested a budget of $203,077 for the coming fiscal year, including a $2,500 raise for herself. The total is down from the $538,168 approved for the office last spring when Robert W. Hughes was director.

According to county budget records, the office was allocated $94,134 in the fiscal year that began July 1, 1986, Donald P. Hutchinson's last year as county executive.

Hirschburg said she considers the office's function now to represent the Hayden administration's stance on policy issues. She said her office will not write or distribute public service notices for other county departments nor will it publicize activities of the County Council, both past functions of the office. Hirschburg is now the only person in the office qualified to write public pronouncements.

She said the restructuring has fulfilled Hayden's campaign pledge. The former office workers now dispersed to other departments are filling vacant jobs there and should not diminish the reductions in her office's budget, she said.

"They are not doing information jobs in county government that have anything to do with the jobs they did here," she said.

Some disagree.

"It's all smoke and mirrors," said one former high Rasmussen official, who refused to be identified. A former communications office worker said the work is virtually the same, except it is done in a different location now.

Four of the workers moved to other county jobs are doing public information work for the county police, health, aging and library departments. A former communication office receptionist is now helping keep track of Hayden's schedule, and a news writer is doing research for the county Planning Department. Two graphic artists and one assistant, including Charles Rasmussen, Dennis' brother, have left county employ for private industry jobs.

Robert W. Hughes, who resigned after Hayden's election victory, is still seeking a job.

The County Council's former chairman, Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-3rd, and its current chairman, Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, both disagreed yesterday with Hirschburg's declaration that "the function of this office is not to do relations for the County Council."

"It's supposed to be there for both the legislative and executive branch, although the last four years there wasn't much help there for the council," said Riley, a Hayden supporter.

Ruppersberger, who backed Rasmussen, said the council definitely needs help from the communications office to publicize council issues, especially with all the controversy over property taxes and county spending: "We need help to get our issues out."

Hughes, the former office director, denied that his office was used as a political vehicle to promote Rasmussen the candidate, a charge made frequently by Hayden's camp and by Hirschburg now.

Hughes was also critical of the changes made. "It's no longer a countywide communications office. It's the county executive's press office now," he said, reversing the charges most often hurled his way. "It's ridiculous, absurd," he said of the claims that the changes have saved big money and improved the office's function.

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