Roger Hayden's 'Vision Thing'

December 07, 1992

Don't envy Roger Hayden. Halfway through his four-year term as Baltimore County executive, Mr. Hayden is the political lightning rod of a jurisdiction that certainly has seen better days.

The county's biggest problems include a populace becoming more elderly and less affluent by the day, a growing concern about crime and a government knee-deep in red ink.

In addressing the economy and its impact on the county, Mr. Hayden has made some smart moves. He has been the reluctant but realistic bearer of bad tidings -- namely, government can't afford to keep playing sugar daddy. Government, he maintains, must reduce its responsibilities through program cuts and partnerships with the private sector. Also, he bucked the county's anti-tax zealots by, wisely, urging a boost in the piggyback tax.

Yet Mr. Hayden's critics contend he sounds the gloomy "less government" theme ad nauseam, to the exclusion of communicating a "vision thing" that would indicate what his administration is about, other than downsizing government and keeping the county running on a daily basis. Supporters of the executive say that's vision enough for a public leader battling the worst economic climate that Baltimore County has seen in decades.

Communication has indeed been a bugaboo of the Hayden tenure. Earlier this year, he changed public information directors in an attempt to open up his administration. However, Mr. Hayden is still viewed as lacking the best of relations with such important players as the County Council and the business community. The executive seemingly has been unable to shake the close-to-the-vest methods of his days on Baltimore County's school board, an appointive body answerable to no one.

Mr. Hayden will need communication skills and every other tool he can muster as he enters what may be his make-or-break period. Through next spring, he will announce his proposals for cutting nearly $30 million to balance the county budget. Another tax hike seems a long shot. The rainy-day fund won't be touched. That means reduced programs and services, maybe another round of furloughs for government workers, maybe even layoffs. All are steps that could snap the already thin patience of county employees and residents.

How Mr. Hayden handles this budget-shaping process will likely determine his chances of winning a second term two years from now.

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