Roger Hayden's leadership


December 07, 1992

Midway through his four-year term as Baltimore County Executive, Roger Hayden can claim credit for being a hard worker, a good numbers cruncher and a generally level-headed manager of government finances.

Indeed, Mr. Hayden has made his most commendable moves in his handling of the sour economy and its impact on the county. Like a doctor serving spoonfuls of castor oil, he has repeatedly sounded the theme that government can no longer be all things to the public. Government, he has stated, must reduce its responsibilities through program cuts and public-private partnerships. Also, he outraged his one-time backers in the anti-tax movement by taking the wise but unpopular step of urging a boost in the county's piggyback tax.

Mr. Hayden campaigned in 1990, the year of the anti-incumbent, a businessman who would set the county's house in order without resorting to the pol's puffery. While being a non-politician helped him into office, that lack of polish now brings the loudest criticism of his administration. A not-so-great communicator, he has been rapped for pushing the dreary "less government" theme to extremes and not expressing a vision that would show what his administration is about, besides downsizing government and keeping the county operating day to day. Mr. Hayden's supporters, however, counter that "vision" should take back seat when the county is faced with its worst economic climate in memory.

Yet the fact remains that communications has been a sore spot of this administration. Mr. Hayden shook up his public relations office earlier this year but still lacks the best of relations with such key players as the County Council and the business community. It could be that Mr. Hayden hasn't been able to shed the close-to-the-vest methods of his days on Baltimore County's school board, a body appointed by the governor and answerable to no one in the county.

Mr. Hayden's greatest test appears to be at hand, as he prepares his proposals for cutting nearly $30 million to balance the county budget. His likely options won't be pretty. They will certainly include reductions in programs and services, and possibly another round of furloughs for county workers or even ++ layoffs. These are all steps that could break the already stretched patience of employees and residents of Baltimore County -- and have a lot to do with whether Roger Hayden could win re-election two years from now.

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