Dear Mayor Barry:

I have no wish to add to your troubles, but there are a couple of things I want to know. As a District taxpayer, I want to know what you're doing with my money. As a longtime District resident, I want to know what you're doing with my city.

To take the first things first -- after all, as Bill Cosby might say, it's my money -- I need you to tell me something that makes sense about this Sallie Melendez, the public relations official you've hired. I'm sure she's very competent and all that, but what is it precisely that she's competent at? No, that sounds catty, and that isn't my intention. What I'm trying to say is, you confused me when you hired her without giving her any specific duties (although you did agree to pay her a very specific number of tax dollars -- 63,185 of them every year).

When my colleagues in the media started asking questions, you called a Cabinet meeting at which you grumpily, even reluctantly, it seemed to me, gave her responsibilities for the first time: liaison to about a dozen agencies.

Now it might be that the city desperately needs a liaison. But I think I deserve to be told what that need is, and how Melendez will fill it. You see, the growing impression is that yours is a government by whim. You don't help matters when you treat press inquiries as though reporters are trying to get into your business.

Not just reporters, either. When some of your own aides hinted that the unexplained Melendez hiring was affecting the already depressed morale at the District Building, you arrogantly (and somewhat scatologically) told the dissatisfied employes to shut up or get out, as if you were a plantation overseer talking to disgruntled sharecroppers.

Well, I try to be respectful, but I don't remember voting for a plantation master.

At the same meeting, you announced that your wife Effi now has Cabinet rank in your administration, which you said she attained by dint of her "brilliant mind." Now I don't doubt that Effi is quite bright, but the impression is that you never gave two seconds' thought to her elevation until you spoke.

Again, it looks like government by impulse. Or government by chaos. There's certainly plenty of chaos, some of it reflected in the defection of loyal but principled employes from your administration. Even true-blue Stephanie Greene, special assistant to your wife Effi, has reached for her hat.

You and I know that a lot of Washingtonians would like you out of the District Building well in advance of the expiration of your term in 1990. I don't count myself among these malcontents, though I have tried to offer constructive criticism in the past. Why do you keep giving your opponents such elegant arguments for getting rid of you?

Increasingly, you give the impression of a captain without a compass, a man who ricochets from crisis to self-generated crisis. What do I mean? The example of a man whose job you often compare to your own, in terms of its toughness, will illustrate my point. When Ronald Reagan came into office, he knew defense would be a priority. So he brought in a hard-nosed defense secretary named Cap Weinberger to carry out his program and surround himself with like-minded people.

In your case, however, beyond getting elected, you do not appear to know what you are going to do with the power of the mayor's office.

When you first came into office, you expected that your chief adversaries would be developers and the hotel and tourism industry. You now have masterfully satisfied that constituency, some would say at the expense of the neighborhoods. Your plan to increase minority participation in city contracts and projects was admirable, but it wasn't professionally conceptualized and managed. In addition, you don't seem able to groom a second team to replace the team that supported you during your first term and that was pretty well decimated by the resignation and (shall we say) indisposition of your key aides. And not just Ivanhoe Donaldson.

I'm worried about what you're doing with our city. Being mayor is more than simply building a political machine to keep getting yourself elected. You have to do something after you get elected. And there are so many desperate needs in the neighborhoods of this city that are not being met, needs for decent housing, jobs, opportunities for youth, and, yes, for hope.

With vision, a plan and a good management team, the resources exist to meet many of those needs, and in the process make this city's neighborhoods a mecca of black economic development and progress.

Instead, you are rapidly frittering away your prestige, your power -- and my respect.