Buddy Roogow: friendly bearer of the pink slip

March 05, 1995|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

Friends of Buddy Roogow may think he makes enemies in his work. But if he does, they're not talking.

As Howard County administrator, as director of operations for then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer and now as a $92,912-a-year deputy chief of staff to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the 45-year-old Ellicott City resident has doled out more than his share of pink slips.

If his style were different, he would be called a "hatchet man" when dealing with staff reductions -- an important part of his job as a personnel specialist over the years.

But that is not how most peers perceive Irving Wolpert Roogow, known universally as "Buddy" -- a man they say is the personification of his nickname.

"Overall, he is very well liked, which is remarkable, because in that type of position, you make enemies," says close friend James M. Irvin, who, as director of the Howard County public works department, worked closely with Mr. Roogow for 11 years.

"It's remarkable, the number of people liking him."

Having been fired himself, Mr. Roogow knows firings are inevitable.

"Sometimes when changes occur in government [because new people are elected], you have to make changes in personnel," he says. "I am frequently the one to give people that information. Bad news is pretty common for me."

It is not a role he takes lightly. Many in Mr. Roogow's position might seek to avoid the people they are going to fire, but he takes the opposite approach. He seeks to know employees on a first-name basis, often taking the role of chaplain, listening to their personal hurts.

"I tend to remember those times" when he has to fire someone, he says. "I spend a lot of sleepless nights wondering, 'How am I going to say this?' I get too involved in people's problems. I let people tell me the consequences [of losing their jobs]. I try to find solutions -- and sometimes I can't find solutions. I leave feeling pretty bad."

He shouldn't, says Howard County Solicitor Barbara Cook.

"He tries very hard to make things work -- to put people in a situation where they can shine and do well," she says. "He is not afraid to make a decision and do what's right."

Howard County Auditor Ronald S. Weinstein agrees.

"There are two ways to accomplish things," he says, "the good way and the bad way. Buddy always used the good way with me. Some people are always looking around the room [to see who is more important], but Buddy always focuses on the person he is talking to."

Empathy, says Maggie Brown, vice president and director of community services for the Columbia Association, is one of Mr. Roogow's greatest strengths.

"He really likes people," she says. "Whatever happened with employees, he always had a feeling for them. He has not been leaving a trail of angry people behind."

He easily could have. In 1991, Mr. Roogow was responsible for telling 40 employees in Howard County government that they were being laid off for budgetary reasons.

He was one of those let go -- not for monetary reasons, but for political ones. He had served as county administrator under Democratic County Executive Elizabeth Bobo.

And, although he did not take an active role in her failed re-election bid, he was perceived by influential supporters of her successor -- Republican Charles I. Ecker -- as being too close to her. He was fired in February but stayed until July, helping to train key members of the new administration.

"He's extremely technically competent -- very professional in his understanding of government and the issues part of government," Ms. Cook says.

Government administration is a role for which Mr. Roogow has prepared since childhood.

"I have always been a fan, a devotee of political history," he says. "As a little kid, I had a set of the presidents, and I knew every president's birth date, death date and political accomplishments."

After graduation from Baltimore City College high school, where Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was a classmate and fellow lacrosse player, Mr. Roogow studied government and politics at the University of Maryland.

He graduated in 1971 and returned to earn a master's degree in public administration and urban studies in 1973.

While in graduate school, he researched and wrote much of the final report for President Richard M. Nixon's Council on Management Improvement.

After college, he became an urban planner, helping to design a light rail system that was built under Governor Schaefer.

Before coming to Howard County in 1980, he was county administrator in Harrison County, West Virginia. He assumed Howard County's top nonelected position in 1988.

As a holdover from the Bobo administration, Mr. Roogow had a tenuous relationship with Mr. Ecker. But once he was fired, "the pressure was off," Mr. Roogow says, "and we actually developed a much closer relationship."

Mr. Ecker agrees. "I'm an admirer of Buddy Roogow," he says. "He did a good job here. He is a very capable individual with lots of ability. He gets along well with people. We parted on friendly terms."

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