Hayden's coal for Christmas

December 28, 1992

Those of us who are all thumbs when it comes to wrappin holiday gifts can better appreciate the fumble-fingeredness of Roger B. Hayden. The Baltimore County executive may have delivered a message that was due the other day -- that county government will have to lay off staff -- but he made a mess of packaging it.

Mr. Hayden, a former business executive, prides himself in not having a politician's instinct, and in that he has much to be proud of. There was no reason for him put on edge hundreds of county employees just before Christmas with his extemporaneous comment that there will be layoffs -- "Don't know how many . . . don't know when" -- in 1993.

Without preparing any of his administrators, the employees or the County Council, Mr. Hayden made his remarks to this newspaper's editorial board, then a few hours later to a TV reporter. The first-term executive now says he's glad the word leaked out because people can discuss the issue in earnest and possibly suggest major ways to cut costs and balance the

budget without hurting people. His priority, he says, is to preserve the county's AAA bond rating, which he estimates has saved the county $32 million in interest since 1977.

Some 2,000 constituents have trooped through his door in "face to face" meetings every month since he took office two years ago, and no one's delivered the ruby slipper of a budget solution yet. In recent years, the county has lost more than $55 million in state aid and hundreds of manufacturing jobs, probably for good. Baltimore County is gaining poorer families migrating from Baltimore City as quickly as it's losing young families to more affordable, attractive housing in Harford and Carroll counties and southern Pennsylvania. And, there isn't a "grayer" county in Maryland between Allegany and Kent counties.

Mr. Hayden has trimmed 1,100 people from the county work force through attrition, and still that isn't enough. While the county's population grew by 6 percent over the past decade or so, its public work force grew by six times that. If the county is lugging around a government that's breaking its back, even the municipal unions would be best served by a smaller government that could avoid furloughs and afford raises and training and equipment for the remaining workers.

That said, Mr. Hayden, who likes to think like a businessman, should have informed the county's equivalent of the board of directors and the employees -- those most affected -- before telling the shareholders. The county executive may be right in that there isn't a good time to break bad news, but there is a bad time -- and he chose it.

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