The Perot of Baltimore County?

February 21, 1993|By LARRY CARSON

Is Roger B. Hayden a local version of H. Ross Perot? And if the Baltimore County executive's budget cuts and layoffs seem like a microcosm of the harsh national remedies Mr. Perot advocated last year for cutting the deficit, will Baltimore countians accept them?

A host of potential Democratic candidates for county executive in 1994 are now trying to judge that, following Mr. Hayden's announcement of 392 layoffs and budget cuts which closed nine libraries, four senior centers, two health centers, a day care center and even two permits and licenses offices.

The moves this month were the latest and most dramatic expressions of the for- mer businessman's style and substance.

Certainly there are differences between Mr. Hayden and Mr. Perot, the billionaire who joined and quit and rejoined the race for president during last year's national campaign. Mr. Hayden is no billionaire, and he won his upstart, vastly under-funded campaign for public office running as a Republican, not as a recalcitrant independent.

But there are similarities, too. Alone among 1990's crop of local upset winners, Mr. Hayden's background is business, not politics. He worked for 22 years for Eastern Stainless Steel, moving from mail boy to a top executive post before leaving to run George's Transfer, a north county trucking firm. His only government experience was 12 years on the school board.

And the harsh list of budget cuts and layoffs he announced Feb. 11 reflect that private, business background more clearly than anything else he has done in office so far.

In one fell swoop, Mr. Hayden has likely alienated much of the county's more than 7,000 member work force and their families; the 12,000 more school board employees and their families; library patrons; senior citizens in a county where seniors are the fastest growing group demographically; and much of the county's legislative contingent in Annapolis.

Last year he raised the county's share of the state income tax from 50 to 55 percent, angering the north county anti-property-tax protest leaders who so ardently supported him in 1990.

Former county executive Donald P. Hutchinson, who served as county executive from 1978-86, said some of the cuts had to be made and were right to do, but the political damage to Mr. Hayden will likely be cumulative, each cut adding its effect, constituency by constituency.

Could Mr. Hayden, by the application of a little political and personal compassion, have spared himself and the county the damage some of the cuts have caused?

For a measly $75,000 a year, for example, Mr. Hayden could have left the tiny Lansdowne library open, and avoided the negative symbolism that a closed library reinforces in a physically isolated community already struggling with an inferiority complex. For another $40,000 a year, the Turners Station library, in the equally isolated African-American section of Dundalk, could have similarly been saved.

For a little more, he could have left the Loch Raven Senior Center open, and dodged the public heat generated by closing both a library and senior center in the same community. In a budget of nearly $1 billion, those amounts are peanuts, even in these tough times.

Did he have to lay off all 392 county workers who got their notices February 11? Even Carol Hirschburg? The only professional Republican political operative on his staff? Or Tom Robinson, the husband of his own personal secretary?

Sure, the Essex Day Care center was losing $60,000 a year and isn't fully used, but it's in the heart of a Democratic east side community that Mr. Hayden will need help from again in 1994 to win another four years in office.

Why is Mr. Hayden providing his potential Democratic opponents what seems like a virtual smorgasbord of issues with which to attack him? Because, some officials close to him said, he didn't let politics enter into his decisions. Like a corporate executive, he painstakingly reviewed the options, made the choices, and stuck to them, regardless.

Top county officials say that Mr. Hayden followed his six-month-long, arduous process of reviewing every function and job in county government to the letter. He flinched, they say, but didn't waver when he saw some of the list of names next to the jobs that had been identified for elimination.

He kept all of his decisions so secret, in fact, that some officials were relieved in December when he finally said out loud for the first time that layoffs were a virtual certainty. They were worried that county workers had been lulled by the length and secrecy of the process into a false and dangerous sense of security.

The most dramatic and specific information, that the cuts would eliminate as many as 500 jobs and perhaps 400 people, didn't even come from Mr. Hayden. It came during a question and answer session between budget director Fred Homan and worried middle management county workers during a meeting in the County Council chambers that a news reporter just happened to hear about.

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