A Farewell To Roogow

The Scene County currents and undercurrents

August 21, 1991|By -- James M. Coram -- Michael James

When Buddy Roogow was forced to step down as county administrator June 28 after 11 years in county government, employees chipped in for afarewell party.

It was a two-hour burlesque that brought to mind what Adlai E. Stevenson, quoting Abraham Lincoln, said when he lost the presidential election a second time in 1956: "I'm too old to cry, and it hurts too much to laugh."

Beneath the parodies and skits at Roogow's farewell was an unrelenting pain. More than grief or sympathy, it was the pain of recognition. If Roogow, the county's highest-paid official, could be axed, anyone could.

The simple truth about firings is that virtually no oneis ever let go for incompetence. Mostly it's that somebody doesn't like you. In Roogow's case, his new boss, County Executive Charles I. Ecker, said Roogow "was loyal and I trusted him, but something didn'tclick."

Not clicking is something the 58 appointees who serve theadministration and the County Council hardly ever think about. For the most part, they see themselves as career employees, not political appointees.

Like Roogow, many have served the county more than a decade. Again like Roogow, many have come up through the ranks, havingleft "safe" jobs in county government for higher-paying appointed positions.

Still, their loyalty is to the county, not a particular politician. When someone new is elected, they shift gears quickly, like Ken Coffee, a Republican administrative assistant to former County Executive J. Hugh Nichols. Coffee tried to stay on in another position when Democrat M. Elizabeth Bobo was elected. He was one of the first to go.

Like Coffee, appointees know they have to do a tap dance when someone new is elected. Yet most seem surprised -- perhaps stunned is the better word -- when they fail the audition.

Twelve were replaced during Bobo's four years; 13 so far by Ecker. And not just administrative assistants.

Among Bobo's first fires were the policechief, the director of planning and zoning, and the head of the county's data-processing department. Her replacements were among the first fired by Ecker.

Many of the departed from both the Ecker era andthe Bobo era were present at the Roogow roast. Like Roogow, they were loyal, trustworthy employees who, for the most part, served their county well.

For two hours, they, their replacements and some of Roogow's friends lampooned themselves and Roogow's career. In another context it might have been hilarious. In this one, there was too much angst.

The presence of former higher-ups, many of whom were still out of work, could not help but impress survivors with the knowledge that their ability, dedication and commitment are not enough.

They, too, may one day face a pharaoh who knows not Joseph -- a thought not worth crying over, but too painful to laugh about.

DEAR OLD COLUMBIA

My first experiences with Columbia have been very pleasant, butI'm still getting used to some of these suburban idiosyncrasies.

For instance, I've been having trouble explaining where I live to my friends. Technically, I live in the Fairway Hills section of the Dorsey's Search Village in Columbia, but no one outside of Howard County seems to understand those distinctions.

One friend, from a mundaneBaltimore County community, asked why I needed so many addresses, and whether Fairway Hills was like Beverly Hills. He seemed to think I had become a Fairway Hillbilly.

"Fairway Hills is the neighborhood, Dorsey's Search is the Village, and Columbia is the city," I told him. "And the development is located on the old Allview golf course."

"So how do you get your mail?" he asked. "Do they drop it off on the 18th green?"

Well, technically, I think our place is on the seventh tee, but I suppose he's got a point. It can get quite confusing,although living in these villages has definite advantages one would never dream of.

An overwhelming number of services and products are available to members of Columbia's "Package Plan II," which allows them to use the Columbia fitness centers and recreational facilities for about $565 a year.

If you subscribe to the plan, which I'm told is quite popular among the health-conscious Columbia community, youare entitled to over 100 discounts -- on plumbing, dry cleaning, optical care, tutoring, SAT preparation, landscaping and maid service.

"Show your Package Plan II ID to merchants before your bill is totaled," says the brochure put out by the Columbia Association. "Be sureto let merchants know that you are there because they are participating in Package Plan II."

Also available are discount massages, chiropractics, dentistry, day care, roommate referrals, car and truck leasing, home mortgage financing, psychotherapy, and a session at Columbia's mind spa.

Even lawyers will give you a discount. With my plan ID in hand, I can get 10 percent off the cost of my legal fees associated with my defense in a criminal, divorce or bankruptcy case.

Perhaps the toughest part about Columbia is the driving. Everyone is in a big hurry to get back and forth from those fitness clubs, I guess. I've never seen such aggressive driving; no matter where I am, somebody's six inches off my bumper.

My Columbia dentist notices the same thing and discussed it with me recently while he pulled my wisdom teeth (unfortunately, I didn't get a discount.)

He told me of a study of how well-exercised and well-nourished rats often became moreaggressive with each other. "I think the same holds true for people,especially people in Columbia," he said.

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