Simple style, budget sense win executive respect

April 28, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

He's a corporate executive turned politician in a year when the economic slump has put a premium on the businessman's knack for cutting corners.

He's an unassuming man following in the footsteps of an executive who was booted out of office by voters convinced he had been seduced by the trappings of power.

Four months into his first term as Baltimore County executive, the consensus is that Roger B. Hayden's style and priorities have made him the right man for the times.

"I think Roger Hayden represents what people want at this point," said Robert L. Caret, the provost at Towson State University, who has worked with area leaders for three years on the Baltimore County Executive's Advisory Board on Higher Education.

"They want to cut the cost of government, but they want the services kept up. They want someone who's open-minded," he said.

Mr. Hayden's image as a cost-conscious administrator has helped him address the thorny issues that are part of managing a $1.13 billion budget and 20,000 employees who serve 692,000 residents, say those familiar with county government.

He's also been helped politically by a fiscal crisis that has lowered expectations about employee pay raises, funding for public projects and programs requested by department heads, they add.

Mr. Hayden's budget, proposed April 16, cuts the property tax rate by 2 cents -- to $2.875 for each $100 of assessed value -- gives no cost-of-living increases to employees and calls for no major new programs.

The biggest spending increase, $25.3 million, went toward education, where the former school board president proposed dealing with a 4,000-pupil enrollment increase by hiring 220 teachers. Even that was only half of what school officials wanted.

But after announcing there would be no pay raises, Mr. Hayden held two sessions to explain the fiscal picture to workers -- and most went away convinced he had done what he could for them.

It didn't hurt that the session came a day after 40 Howard County employees were laid off, nor that he pledged to accept only the 4 percent increase in his $73,000 salary next July that county employees received last January, rather than the full $89,900 that is due the executive.

"I haven't received a single phone call from anyone in the county complaining about it," said Carole Hammen, director of membership services for the Maryland Classified Employees Association, which represents 1,800 county workers. "I think they know the state of the economy, and they know what's going on around them."

But while Mr. Hayden's strengths have been suited to the times, he also has proved to be adaptable.

A man who favors quiet meetings, dark suits and books on management theory, he has developed enough of a showman's streak to join a charity band and play a trumpet he had not picked up since high school.

A man elected on a promise to save money, his budget cut 218 vacant positions from county government, a trim worth an estimated $5 million. But he also agreed to spend considerable sums on community projects, such as negotiating to buy a closed theater to revitalize Pikesville and spending $538 each for 38 trash cans to spruce up Essex.

Still, not everyone is happy with Mr. Hayden.

After the group that bargains for the 37 fire chiefs won an improved pension package, the union that represents rank-and-file firefighters complained publicly that it was unfair for Mr. Hayden's negotiators to refuse to discuss better benefits with them.

The Baltimore County Firefighters Association asked that a third party be called in to resolve the issue. The county refused, prompting the union to call for a special meeting next Thursday to tell the 1,100 members how negotiations have stalled.

"The fact that the county is refusing to let an outsider look at the issues is indicative of their lack of fairness," said John Hohman, -- union president.

Leaders of the black community also say Mr. Hayden has shown few signs of reversing past trends that they say have shut them out of the county government, in terms of jobs and setting policies.

Of the dozen key leaders appointed by Mr. Hayden, not one is black, critics note.

"We realize that changes have to be made gradually, but he's shown no indication of moving in that direction," said Harold Gordon, a politically active state administrator for the Board of Social Work Examiners and a spokesman for the Coalition of African American Organizations.

Mr. Hayden told members of the coalition at a meeting Thursday that he was committed to working with all people, "particularly with regard to issues involving minorities and women."

He also said one of his goals was to open up the government so that those who felt shut out would have a voice in policy.

But he emphasizes that in the appointments made so far -- including Elwood Banister as fire chief and retired pharmacist Frank J. Wesolowski as a liquor board commissioner -- his major concern has been their qualifications.

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