We must do more with less," said Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan into the microphones last week to begin his first-ever public hearing on the county budget.
The TV lights quickly heated up the small hearing room, jammed with people, on the fifth floor of the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.
It was even hotter in the basement cafetria where there was also standing room only. More than 300 placard-waving citizens, many of them teachers and other public employes, who hope to see money for pay raises included in the budget this year, jeered and cheered at the ceiling speakers broadcasting the proceedings from the fifth floor. Annoyed participants called the room "the holding pen," where the 65 scheuduled speakers and 200 nonspeakers, who just wanted to get a look at Hogan, waited for their numbers to be called, like democracy in a popular bakery.
A referendum question adopted by voters last fall requires Hogan to hear citizens' opinions on the budget before it is completed and passed to the county council on March 31 for action. The council then holds its own public hearings on the budget.
Hogan aides said their boss insisted on holding the hearing on "his" floor in "his" 49-person-capacity hearing room because the county council auditorium on the second floor is "their" room and the high school auditoriums offered by the school board belong to the "education lobby," as Hogan calls members of the teachers' union and the PTAs.
"We knew it would be a zoo if we had it in a school," said John R. Issac, one of the half-dozen clean-cut Hogan aides who manned the two checkpoints between the cafeteria and the fifth floor as speakers and spectators were escorted up in groups of 10. "Some of these people hated him before and they'll hate him later," Issac added.
Karen Kuker-Kihl, Maryland director for the National Education Association, had a different opinion as to why the majority of the citizens were kept on the outside listening in. "The truth of the matter is that he didn't want a crowd, he didn't want a reaction," she said angrily.
Or as one school official put it, "I have always thought of Hogan as a rather gutsy kind of guy. This is not the Hogan I've read about in the media, hiding on the fifth floor behind a bunch of aides and maintenance men."
The proposed school budget of $294 million, which will consume more than 60 percent of the county budget, is a major source of contention. When School Superintendent Edward J. Feeney presented the budget to the school board last month, he called it a "crisis" budget because of its austerity. It does not include the etimated $60 million that would be needed to fund the 42.4 percent salary hike teachers are requesting.
Hogan has said that he will only increase the county's contribution to the schools by $9 million, or 3 percent.
Teachers waiting in the cafetria marked papers at the lunch tables or chatted between whoops of support and thunderous applause as speaker after speaker faced Hogan and the microphones during the six-hour session in the padded room upstairs. The majority of the speakers were teachers and parents pleading for more money for the schools, and the teachers.
School board chairman Jo Ann Bell, the first speaker at the tightly controlled forum, charged that Hogan's fiscal austerity may be "hurting our children for the sake of political hyperbole."
"I felt like I was walking into an armed camp," the school board chairman said when she returned to the cafeteria at 10:30 p.m. with board members Doris Eugene and Catherine Burch.
Over the loudspeakers, Hogan was confronting his 40th speaker in the fifth-floor room, and getting just a bit impatient. The heads of the three major public employe unions sat in the cafeteria, stewing at the way Hogan successfully throttled the hearing. Many of their union members had left by 10:30 p.m.
Laney Hester, president of the county Fraternal Order of Police, said he was flabbergasted when a Hogan staffer barred him from the upstairs hearing room as a possible security risk.
"I said, 'I got news for you. I'm a police officer and I can't be a security risk.' He said, 'I'm sorry you can't go up.' Hell, I'm not going to shoot him . . . I don't even have my gun. I don't understand it," Hester said, shaking his head in disgust.
He (Hogan) purposely set it up this way so that he could maintain control," said Paul Manner, chief negotiator for county workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes. The union is still feeling the effects of a bitter contract fight last fall.
"He can treat me bad; I'm used to that," said Manner. "But I'm surprised that he would view the public in the same way."
But Hogan aide Irv Smith defended the cozy hearing setup, saying, "I think this is the only room that he has for a public hearing. I think it has worked out well. It does help you get some one-on-one dialogues with the county executive that you couldn't get in a larger room."
Indeed, after Hogan repeatedly denied that county teachers are the lowest-paid in the area, and insisted that he was not cutting the school budget, the exchanges between the executive and the speakers began to get personal, and a bit testy.
According to figures supplied by the Fairfax County Educators Association and the Maryland State Teachers Association. Prince George's teachers are paid less than their counterparts in Fairfax and Montgomery counties.
Hogan's budgets increased school expenditures per pupil by 7.8 percent in fiscal 1980 and 9 percent in this fiscal year 1981, less than the rate of inflation in the last two years.
Despite the claims of the educators and parents at the hearing that the effects of the tax-limiting TRIM amendment and Republican fiscal conservatism have brought county schools to the brink of disaster, Hogan said he will seek to cut taxes this year, for the third year in a row. He said Prince George's will never lose the "ugly sister" characterization that remains a thorn in the side of the county's pride until its taxes are low enough to attract a more affluent citizenry.
"The people of this county elected me to lower taxes," said Hogan. "That's what they want me to do and that's what I'm going to do."
When teacher Myla Grooms, speaker number 36, asked Hogan why Fairfax County teachers make more than she does, Hogan replied sharply, "I suggest you visit Fairfax County and see the percentage of low-income housing and low-income people there." He went on to say that a "super-abundance" of low-income residents, and the resulting low tax base, makes it difficult for Prince George's County to pay its teachers the same salary as do counties with a richer stock of taxable property.
In a later interview Hogan said he intended to make the point that Prince George's "should not be compared to our affluent neighbors." He said that a one-cent hike in property taxes (per $100 valuation) yields $900,000 in additional revenues in Montgomery County but only $500,000 in Prince George's.
Hogan charged that rampant waste and mismanagement costs the school system $6 million per year, and that the "education lobby" does not tell citizens about the mismanagement for which the school board, not the county executive, should bear the blame -- charges that school officials have denied.
"They muster you out here to clamor about outmoded textbooks. Well, you're preaching to the wrong choir," said Hogan to the citizens remaining at the end of the hearing at 1 a.m.