Hayden's Bombshell

December 23, 1992

When he ran for office, Roger Hayden vowed he'd be the Baltimore County executive truly "closer to the people." But did that necessitate being incommunicado with the government?

With the off-handedness with which most people would order lunch, Mr. Hayden mentioned during an editorial board discussion the other day his administration will have no choice but to lay off employees next year. How many? Don't know. From where? Don't know. When? Don't know.

Mr. Hayden, the non-politician's politician, prides himself on staying on an even keel. He doesn't like to put people on emotional roller-coasters, he says. But with an off-the-cuff, vague reference days before Chritmas of layoffs, he's just thrown the switch for the Super-Duper-Looper.

Yet he doesn't have many options. With a stagnant tax base, state aid cuts and a population that's getting older and gaining poorer residents as it loses younger families to other suburbs, Baltimore County's fiscal picture is bleak. There will be taxpayers (none of whom have relatives working for the government) who applaud the move. Even the county's labor unions, while stunned at the news, mightn't fight it too strongly; a smaller government will be a healthier one that might be able to budget for raises and stop yearly furloughs.

But Mr. Hayden hasn't made his job easier. He's in the midst of evaluating all county services to determine what must be shed. There will be much lobbying by people who want to ensure that their duty is deemed necessary. By not keeping the County Council abreast of what's on his mind, Mr. Hayden didn't give its members a chance to steel themselves for the onslaught.

There's the strong possibly Mr. Hayden's bombshell wasn't an errant discharge but a pre-emptive strike. Mr. Hayden first mentioned the "job cuts" to journalists, not exactly the folks to tell when you want to keep a secret. Yet by not including interested parties in the process -- even his top lieutenants were caught off-guard -- the executive added confusion, anger and apprehension to a difficult undertaking.

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