When Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening held a press conference recently to announce that just enough money had been found to avert hundreds of layoffs of county employes, but not enough to fill any vacancies, reporters asked him why workmen were removing walls and painting and plastering his office complex.
Glendening told reporters he is remodeling the executive staff offices on the fifth floor of the county administration building in Upper Marlboro, painting walls, creating new rooms. The cost: $20,000.
"My chief administrative officer recommended it as being absolutely essential to enhance productivity," Glendening said.
The remodeling job is but one of several perquisites that Glendening, a Democrat, and his staff have assumed since he took the $63,000-a-year position in January.
When Glendening's Republican predecessor, Lawrence Hogan, was in office, the Democrats loved to rail about the perks and travel Hogan enjoyed at county expense. But it now appears Glendening finds some of the same services necessary, as well as a couple of others.
Shortly after taking office, he asked Police Chief John McHale to assign him three veteran police officers to work as his chauffeur in shifts. Hogan drove himself for three of his four years and later employed a single aide for that task. The aide was paid less than $16,000 each year, while the average police officer makes at least $22,000.
All three officers often accompany Glendening to public hearings, and one is always near him when he goes to council meetings. Glendening says they make him feel more secure.
Also for security, Glendening had the county install a burglar alarm and two extra private phone lines in his University Park home, with one number connected to the county police communications center for emergencies. The cost: $1,200.
Hogan had one private phone line, as well as a $650 fence and gate erected by the county on an access road to his property in preparation for a 1980 strike by public employes.
Glendening's three top aides--chief administrative officer John Wesley White, deputy John Davey and public safety liasion Michael Knapp--enjoy the use of late-model cars from the county's fleet. The previous executive had cars assigned full-time only for himself and his top aide, although his other employes had access to cars on a temporary basis, as Glendening's do now.
Such perks have elicted concern from some county department heads and given ammunition to Glendening's adversaries.
Lawrence Hogan Jr., the former executive's son and aide, for example, has dubbed Glendening the county's "Grand Imperial County Executive."
Hogan hastened to make the more serious point that these minor comforts, while a small part of the county's half-billion dollar budget, come at a time when Glendening has exhorted public employes to do without cost-of-living raises to help erase an estimated $30 million deficit.
Such criticism is not unlike that leveled recently at Anne Arundel County Executive O. James Lighthizer. County auditor Joseph H. Novotny blasted Lighthizer for renovating his and other county offices while suspending services elsewhere in an attempt to cut a $2.3 million deficit.
Glendening said the cars for his staff "are in their contracts," contracts that he negotiates.
He noted he uses the same 1982 Chrysler Le Baron (equipped with a two-way radio and spiffy PGC 001 license plates) that was bought for Hogan last year, and the cars for his staff are standard models from the county's fleet. They too are equipped with standard two-way radios.
Knapp, a former county police officer, uses the unmarked 1982 Dodge Diplomat he was assigned as a police officer, Glendening said. Davey needs his cherry red 1982 Aries K car because he often represents the executive in meetings around town. And White didn't want his predecessor's Chrysler St. Regis because the previous official's chain-smoking habit filled the vehicle with an unpleasant, persistent aroma.
Glendening points out, correctly, that cars are standard issue for other elected officials. "Did you ask D.C. Mayor Marion Barry about his cars? Did you ask Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer about his cars?" he asks tartly.
In fact, Glendening's cars are a far cry from the enormous, sun-roof-equipped Ford LTD, dubbed "Big Black" by the staff, that former executive Winfield Kelly bequeathed to Hogan in 1979.
Nevertheless, some chief executives have managed without many of these incentives.
Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist, head of the state's wealthiest county, has a county car but no phone lines or security system, and not even a driver, according to spokesman Charles Maier. "He tried a driver a couple of years ago, but he gave it up." Maier said.