The victims were informed summarily that changes were being made and that they were fired. A police bodyguard protected the person making the announcement. Mikhail Gorbachev's Black Sea villa during the Soviet coup attempt? No, this was the Baltimore County Economic Development Commission office last Monday.
The commission's deputy director; its office manager, a 14-year veteran, and another staffer were fired by Kenneth C. Nohe, who has served as commission director only since November.
The style of the change smelled of a bloodless coup. County Executive Roger B. Hayden and his appointee, Mr. Nohe, explained little afterward. Mr. Nohe said the dismissals were necessitated by a change in philosophy. The commission, charged with serving and encouraging business in the county, wanted to shift strategy from business service to revitalization and tourism, he said.
That might seem plausible except that Mr. Hayden has hardly said Word One about revitalizing aged business districts or tourism promotion. In fact, Mr. Hayden, strapped for county cash, dismantled the tourism office his predecessor had established. And when Mr. Hayden rattled off a list of goals during a recent speech -- develop the White Marsh and Owings Mills growth areas and a proposed biotech industrial park in Catonsville; keep the federal Health Care Financing Administration in Woodlawn, and market the new Sparrows Point Industrial Park -- revitalization and tourism weren't to be found.
If Mr. Hayden has a philosophical compass for economic development, he should share it with the business community. Businessmen are going to be hearing less from the county as it is since Mr. Nohe plans to discontinue the office's practice of "cold calling" small businesses to offer the commission's help if needed.
Anthony J. Haley, the fired deputy director, and office manager Patricia M. Krug -- who someone called the "National Archives of Baltimore County economic development" -- were well regarded in the business community. (The third staffer fired, Patrick L. McDonough, hadn't been with the office long, although ironically he managed the Hayden county executive campaign.) Their dismissals, and the manner in which they occurred, reflect poorly on Mr. Hayden. This certainly will not heighten business confidence in his regime.
Mr. Hayden won office in an upset two years ago with the help of many residents who were fed up with taxes and growth. He has since disassociated himself from the no-new-taxes movement. Now he has to make clearer his thoughts on how the county should build its business base. Right now, he seems to be all over the map -- and can be tracked only by the trail of bodies left behind.