Hayden ignores standard procedure in pre-holiday layoff announcement BALTIMORE COUNTY

December 23, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Go figure Roger B. Hayden.

The Baltimore County executive refused for weeks to say what he would do to make up a $31.7 million deficit this year. He insisted on dotting "i's" and crossing "t's" in his plans before revealing them to the public.

He has said through two seasons of midyear state budget cuts that layoffs would be his last resort and that he'd keep a low public profile to avoid the "emotional roller coaster" of frightening predictions.

Then, four days before Christmas, he casually mentioned to reporters that this time, some county workers will lose their jobs. He wouldn't say who, or how many -- only that he would announce specifics in late January.

Yesterday he was wondering what all the fuss was about.

He argued that he didn't say anything Monday that he hasn't said for months -- that this year, attrition won't be enough to balance the budget, and that programs will have to be cut.

If you cut programs, he said, it follows that the people who run them will have to go, too.

"I'm quite sure I said it," he said, referring to layoffs.

At the same time, he conceded, publicity surrounding his offhand comments "has been a service in getting the message out. I'm sort of pleased that it's out a little more."

By conventional political standards, his public discussion of layoffs now is no-no.

The first rule for revealing bad news is to let underlings break it if you can get away with it. Second, it doesn't pay to put 8,000 county workers on notice four days before Christmas that they've got a month to worry about whether they'll be the ones to lose their jobs. It tends to irritate them.

Third, it's impolite to drop bombshells without warning your legislative partners in government and union leaders. Fourth, warn your own management team that it might get a few inquiries.

Finally, if all else fails, blame everything on somebody else -- such as Gov. William Donald Schaefer or the General Assembly.

As usual, Mr. Hayden, a quiet former businessman and school dTC board president, did it his way, without acknowledging counsel from anyone.

County Council members and union officials said they had no specific warning of imminent layoffs, although some expected them. Department heads and other high administration officials said privately they had no idea Mr. Hayden's comments were coming.

"You caught me cold," one official told a reporter.

Even Chuck Jackson, Mr. Hayden's spokesman, said he didn't know in advance what the executive was going to say.

In remarks at a Christmas luncheon with his staff today, Mr. Hayden said the same people who would criticize him for his pre-holiday timing would criticize him any time he delivered the bad news.

"Had I waited two weeks, they would have panned me for that. It's going to be tough, but the sky's not falling. Let's not fly off the handle and get carried away with the emotional moment," he cautioned to their applause.

The executive dropped the news casually Monday at a meeting with Sun editorial writers and mentioned it again later in the day to a TV reporter who stopped by to talk about drunken driving.

In the end, Mr. Jackson defended his boss, saying that layoffs are just "strictly ugly news. There's never a good time to say it."

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