March 23, 1992

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden dismisses criticism of his economic development director as nickel-and-dime tripe. So what if the Kenneth C. Nohe spent a couple thousand bucks on lunches and dinners for business clients and other county directors? Money is budgeted for such business costs, Mr. Hayden said. No big deal.

But it is. County employees are being asked to take pay cuts because the huge budget deficit, yet Mr. Nohe and friends are dining exceptionally well. Business meals are acceptable practice. But especially now, county officials should commune with colleagues or business leaders in economical working environs when spending public dollars.

Mr. Hayden must have forgotten the charges of waste and insensitive spending he leveled at the previous executive on the campaign trail.

In the past two months, Mr. Nohe spent $2,100 of county money to entertain himself, other department heads and businessmen, most of it on just four meals at a fashionable Towson restaurant. He spent $564 one night, then returned with some of the same government and business people the next evening to run up a $813 tab -- all county money. The tip alone ran about $100 each night. Many county workers lost that much when they were furloughed that week. Prior to those dinners, Mr. Nohe ordered $80 worth of pizza for a lunch for his staff of 20. Eighty bucks? Who works there, the Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles?

Mr. Nohe raised a different flap when he fired two veterans in the department who had built contacts and respect in the business community. He said they clashed with his philosophy. But even the commission's respected chairman, A. Samuel Cook, appeared disturbed by the dismissals.

His position also raises eyebrows because he helped finalize the Towson's recent "sister county" agreement with Cardiff, Wales even while he's working on opening a dinner theater in Wales like the one he owns in White Marsh. That raises serious ethical questions.

Mr. Nohe's judgment and style have been an embarrassment to the Hayden administration, which has its hands full trying to restore credibility with taxpayers and the business community. Perhaps it is time for someone else to look after the county's future economic growth.

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