Robey says spokesman could ease workload

Suburban officials seek assistants to save time

January 25, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

When Howard County Executive James N. Robey drove himself to a regional meeting in downtown Baltimore recently, he had to park eight blocks away and was late, while his peers were all dropped at the door by their drivers.

"Yesterday, I had 15 to 20 calls waiting for me at the end of the day," -- including five from news reporters, he said one day last week.

"If I had a spokesperson to take five of them," he said, his job would be that much easier. "On a slow day I've got 10 events. Where do you find the time between events" to do any work, he wondered aloud seven weeks into the job.

That's why Robey -- the only county executive of a "big seven" Maryland jurisdiction without a representative -- is looking for someone to present his views to the public, even as he plans to have a staff person drive him to some events.

The county has a public information office, but director Victoria Goodman is not Robey's personal spokeswoman.

Once a perk only for big-city mayors, a representative has become a necessity in the suburbs, where people are often too concerned with personal matters to pay attention to community or local government affairs.

"We need you more than you need us," former County Executive Charles I. Ecker said last week, speaking to the media. "We need the press to spread the word" about what government and its leaders are doing.

Ecker, a low-key former school official whose spokeswoman, Vickie Cox, resigned the day after he left office, wondered how an executive could inform people without help. "That was one of my biggest concerns."

James M. Harkins, the new Republican executive in Harford County, hired Jim Mason, an English and journalism teacher at North Harford High School, as his part-time spokesman. Mason said he'll work full time after school ends in June.

"I wasn't looking for a spin doctor, just a credible journalist," Harkins said, explaining that Mason does weekend television work and was close to retirement as a teacher.

In Harford, which has a relatively small population, the job has been a bit informal. George Harrison, spokesman for Eileen M. Rehrmann, Harkins' Democratic predecessor, worked mostly from his Bel Air paint store, even when she was running for governor.

Baltimore County executives have had drivers and representatives for more than 20 years.

"The problem is, if you do everything, you can't do anything," said Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger about the pitfalls of trying to do all the talking and driving. "There's so much volume. My schedule is day and night."

Ruppersberger, like other elected officials, uses his travel time to do paperwork and make phone calls while someone else drives. Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens has begun using county police officers for drivers and protection -- an option Robey, Howard's former police chief, rejects. Owens hired Andrew C. Carpenter, a former reporter, as her spokesman.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has a 14-member security detail, and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry has a driver, who also acts as security, and a spokesman, Reggie Parks.

But some resist the trend.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, chief executive officer of the state's most populous jurisdiction, has David Weaver as his spokesman and county information officer, but drives himself to most places.

"Doug is a hands-on executive and a hands-free cell phone user," Weaver said about his boss's ability to make phone calls using a speakerphone in the car.

Duncan says he likes driving, and, in congested Montgomery County, he wants to feel motorists' pain.

"I just don't see the need for it," he said of having a driver. "It's helpful to deal with the traffic problems we have as a driver," he said, adding that he parks in the public lot near his Rockville office.

Pub Date: 1/25/99

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