Nothing is crueler than uncertainty, which is why County Executive Robert R. Neall has done the right thing by letting Anne Arundel's 4,000 workers know now what's in store for them.
Everyone knew layoffs were coming. The stories county workers whispered to one another probably were worse than reality. At least now they know -- about 100 will lose their jobs, with up to 200 others transferred. Those who suspect their jobs are at risk can start accepting that unpleasant possibility and reviewing their options. And they won't have to wake up one day and read the bad news in the newspaper.
Mr. Neall spelled out his plans at employee meetings that were among the best he has conducted. In the past, his tone has been so clinical that no one believed him when he said he understood their concerns. This time he spoke convincingly and in terms people could understand about what has to be done. No one heckled when he said he was as worried as any of them, and that says something.
His restructuring plan is a common-sense affair that should eliminate duplication by merging planning and zoning with inspections and permits, budget with finance, utilities with public works.
There's some reason to be skeptical about the utilities-public works marriage, because utilities was plagued with spills and customer complaints the last time it was part of public works. Mr. Neall needs to explain how he intends to prevent the old problems from reoccurring.
One change he's considering, which we encourage, is getting rid of the central services department.
Of the five major functions under central services -- purchasing, risk management, telecommunications, maintenance and garages -- the first three clearly belong under administration and the last two under public works. Why pay a central services director a hefty salary when these tasks could be better managed somewhere else?
There's also a case to be made for putting parks under land use and the environment and recreation under human services, again to avoid duplication and waste.
The more permanent savings he finds, the more Mr. Neall helps ensure that the disruption the county now faces will not happen again for a long, long time.