Schmoke's ballooning staff Immune from layoffs?: To be fair, the mayor should not arbitrarily exclude his aides.

February 09, 1996

BALTIMORE IS IN THE GRIPS of a fiscal crisis most dramatically impacting its school system but requiring belt-tightening in every facet of city government. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has raised the possibility of layoffs. If that becomes necessary, he should not arbitrarily exclude his own staff from any decision to put people out of work.

Even before the current economic situation, the public had reason to question the increased size of the mayor's staff. His predecessor, Clarence H. "Du" Burns, had 86 aides. Mr. Schmoke in 1988 began his first administration with 78 staff members, cut that number to 71 in the mid-1990s, but has since increased the mayor's office to 91. That's fine if the city is better managed as a result, but there are indications there might be some room for excisions.

It has been particularly troubling to see the mayor add to his personal staff people who were removed from other assignments because they did not serve the city well. Former Housing Commissioner Robert W. Hearn became the mayor's "policy liaison" in 1993. Whatever he does in that capacity is virtually invisible to the public. The mayor last week gave Mr. Hearn credit for the city's winning a $300,000 Carnegie Foundation grant, but the Health Department played a big role in that successful application.

Similarly brought aboard the mayor's staff after doing a poor job in her previous position was former Baltimore Development Corp. head Honora M. Freeman. She is now the mayor's legislative liaison. Former City Council members Vera Hall and Wilbur "Bill" Cunningham, who were rejected by voters last year, have also been hired as special liaisons to the mayor. Mr. Schmoke now has a liaison with the public schools, two with the business community and five with governments at the local, state and federal levels.

These go-betweens may be necessary to give people access to the mayor's office when they can't get to him directly. But in the context of layoffs elsewhere, Mr. Schmoke must also consider shrinking the size of his staff. The amount of money made by cuts here may not be great, but it all adds up. And it is important symbolically as Mr. Schmoke asks other city employees to prepare to be placed on the sacrificial altar.

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