Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes has asked Thomas H. Maddux, a Baltimore business consultant and former tool company executive, to be his new secretary of economic and community development, sources said today.

The sources said the post, which opened last month with the resignation of Frank J. DeFrancis, has been offered to Maddux. But they said the appointment has been held up until Maddux is able to sever his current business ties and the governor's staff completes a background check.

Hughes, speaking today at his weekly press conference, said he was very close to naming a successor to DeFrancis, and that the appointment would be announced within a day or two.

"I said that last week, but I am even closer now," Hughes said. "These things take a little time."

Later, Hughes refused to confirm or deny that Maddux is his choice.

But other sources said that Maddux, who also serves as chairman of the State Board of Higher Education and on the governor's Employment and Training Council, has been offered the $65,800-a-year position. Maddux declined to comment.

"He's accepted the job if he can break his relationships with his clients," said one source who asked not to be named.

The Department of Economic and Community Development, with about 550 employes and a budget of about $65 million, is primarily responsible for attracting and retaining businesses and overseeing housing programs.

Before becoming a self-employed business consultant about a year ago, the 57-year-old Maddux was executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Easco Corp., a tool manufacturer based in Baltimore that produces Craftsman tools for Sears Roebuck and Co. He previously worked with Black & Decker Inc., the Baltimore-based tool company, where he specialized in marketing and the firm's international operations.

He has been a member of the State Board of Higher Education for eight years and chairman for three.

Maddux was described by one friend as "bright and decent" but "not as flamboyant as DeFrancis."

Sheldon H. Knorr, Maryland's commissioner of higher education, said that Maddux is "really a very good manager. . . . He knows how to run things, to organize things, to pull things together."

Hughes has been searching for a new economic development secretary since DeFrancis resigned in early December, in a move to avoid any suggestion of a conflict of interest over his purchase of the Laurel Race Course.

DeFrancis, an international lawyer who also owns a harness racetrack, was greeted with some skepticism by the Maryland business community at the time of his appointment a year ago. But he quickly earned widespread respect, showing a talent for promotion and an ability to convince businesses that state government was interested in their problems.

A colorful and energetic figure, DeFrancis cut a wide swath in his 11 months in office, taking on a variety of major chores for Hughes.

DeFrancis "is a very, very tough act to follow," said Don Moyer, the executive director of a market research firm in Baltimore whom Hughes consulted about the appointment.