Tony Griffin thinks in the shower

He thinks during his seven-minute walk from home to job. He thinks as he climbs T the flights of stairs to his office and as he fills his green-and-white striped mug with his first cup of coffee--a cup which probably will sit untouched on his metal desk until it's too cold to drink.

It is not that mental exercise is new to Griffin; it is just that his present job description calls for him to be not only his current self but his former self as well. And between telephone calls, committee meetings, staff meetings, commission meetings and board meetings, he hardly has time for lunch, let alone the long, contemplative sessions with pencil and paper he would like.

Anthony H. (Tony) Griffin is the acting Arlington County manager, a job he has filled for the last eight months, since the County Board fired then-manager W. Vernon Ford. At 35 and with six years experience in local government administration, Griffin suddenly found himself in charge of a $200 million budget and 2,309 employes in a suburban jurisdiction challenged by many of the same fiscal and urban problems as the big cities. He is, furthermore, responsible to a County Board fractured along both party and philosophical lines.

Griffin presides over the county from a small, austere cubicle with a picture window overlooking the county jail and a parking lot. It's the same office he occupied before his appointment as act ing manager, when he was administrative assistant to Ford.

In a county where longevity of service has been a hallmark, Griffin is something of a boy wonder. He is younger than any of his 10 department heads, and with a salary of not quite $36,000 annually, he is paid less than more than 40 of his employes. But the disparities in age and wages seem to be viewed with more humor than dismay by Griffin and other county workers, and he has, by all accounts, held the county on a steady course.

Griffin took over the reins of Arlington government in August in the turmoil following the board decision to fire Ford, who had been county manager for more than five years. The board's controversial move to relieve Ford, action taken quickly and late at night, left deep scars in a county employe apparatus that had felt Ford's presence for nearly 22 years, first as an administrative aide and eventually as top man.

To make his way through the mine field of emotion left after Ford's departure, Griffin has followed a cautious path, taking some lessons from Ford and melding them with his own ideas.

Ford believed in working with a small personal staff, convening his department heads as a sort of cabinet and allowing them leeway in determining the direction and administration of their particular areas.

Griffin has maintained this approach, and actually has relied more heavily than Ford on the department heads. "I've tried to capitalize on the team Vernon set up," Griffin said. "I've held even more department head meetings. I need them."

The manager's staff is down to two full-time and one half-time employe in addition to Griffin, who has not filled his own vacant spot of administrative assistant. As a result, he now seems to spend nearly every spare minute with the detailed planning he used to do for Ford.

But where Ford's relations with the County Board were sometimes fractious, Griffin has been conciliatory and decidely low-key. "It's an outstanding board in putting Arlington first and themselves second," Griffin said. "I sense my relations with them are good. I feel comfortable going to them.

"If the board says 'Jump,' I think the manager should ask 'How high?' as long as it's legal."

His approach appears to have paid off. Board Chairman Detwiler says Griffin is doing "an outstanding job."

"He has a very good relationship with the board . . . very open," Detwiler said. "I'm quite pleased."

Detwiler also gives Griffin high marks for his "sensitivity," especially his ability to spot potential problems as they come through the pipeline and alert the board before these items appear on the agenda.

As acting manager, Griffin has been credited with keeping the government on course--including producing the prospectus for development of Courthouse Plaza, located on two blocks of county-owned land behind the courthouse, and development of a $207 million budget for fiscal 1983 that included no real estate tax increase.

According to one county official, Griffin's budget message was so artful, however, it made it clear that a tax increase would ease fiscal uncertainties imposed by inflation and federal aid reductions. The board agreed and, after debate, eventually raised taxes by 2 cents, to 98 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Griffin's stewardship of the county government has won him praise from both inside and out of Arlington. Said county Sheriff James Gondles: "I think Tony's doing an absolutely fantastic job under the circumstances." And Walter Scheiber, director of the Washington Area Council of Governments and dean of the local managers, called Griffin "a promising young professional" for whom he has "high regard."

When the County Board appointed him acting manager, Griffin had been with the county just over six years, the last two as Ford's administrative assistant. A native Arlingtonian, he first came to the county government as an intern, after completing one master's degree in urban affairs, another in urban regional planning and a three-year stint in the Marines, including a tour in Vietnam.

Some observers have speculated that Griffin might be considered a candidate for the permanent appointment. Although the board has made it clear it is seeking a more experienced hand and is conducting a national search for a new manager, Griffin's friends suggest he might be a good compromise candidate should the board be unable to agree on a choice.

Griffin refuses to discuss the topic beyond admitting he's grown fond of the job and knew it was an interim appointment when he took it. "I see this as an opportunity to get some valuable experience" is all he will say.

But the job has taken its toll. For one thing, he's had a case of the sniffles all winter. "I don't know if it has anything to do with it," he said, "but I've been sicker this winter than in the last five combined."