The Hatchet Swings High ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

January 14, 1993

Anne Arundel's county executive may be a tin man without a heart. But no one can say he lacks the fortitude to make the decisions required in this era of tax caps and dwindling revenue.

Robert R. Neall's decision to merge the departments of public works and utilities -- at the expense of two high-ranking, highly paid officials -- shows how deadly serious he is about restructuring and downsizing government.

No employee should delude himself into thinking that sob stories will save his job, or that he is safe by virtue of position or experience. Public Works Director Parker Andrews has been with the county 30 years. Utilities Director Tom Neel was hailed by Mr. Neall a year ago as his "best trouble-shooter." Mr. Neall has asked both to resign.

With too many good ole boy networks still around, it's refreshing that Mr. Neall does not appear to be bound by that system (although the test would have been truer if Messrs. Andrews and Neel had been his appointees). It's also good to see that the

average worker is not going to be the only target of government reorganization.

The combined salaries of Mr. Neel and Mr. Andrews cost taxpayers $180,000 a year. Any restructuring must examine whether such positions are needed, even if those who hold them are doing good work. Mr. Neel excelled at building up his department, but that does not mean he's suited to oversee its dismantling.

If the merger of public works and utilities has caused an uproar, wait until Mr. Neall's total restructuring plan is unveiled next month. It will not go down easily with those who still think in 1980s terms or who feel government should have a more active role than what most people apparently want. But there is no choice. The tax cap that voters approved last year makes swift, sweeping change unavoidable.

For his own good, Mr. Neall would do well to show those who will suffer from these changes a little more heart than usual. Eliminating somebody's job is not just a matter of crossing out a line in the budget, and he needs to show he understands that.

Still, an executive who can't stand making people angry hasn't a ghost of a chance of accomplishing the radical reforms we now face. These days, courage is Mr. Neall's most valuable asset.

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