One day after sending termination notices to 30 top state officials, Maryland Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. reversed one of those dismissals, agreeing yesterday to keep the head of the Motor Vehicle Administration after Ehrlich's handpicked transportation secretary objected to the firing.

A key Ehrlich aide defended the remainder of the dismissals, saying the purge has been remarkably restrained, given that Ehrlich is the first Republican to assume command of Maryland's vast state government since Spiro T. Agnew took office in 1967.

"I think most previous governors have asked for the resignations of everyone down to the director and assistant director level. That's hundreds of people," said Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., Ehrlich's nominee for appointments secretary.

"With a Republican administration coming in, and with 7,480 jobs that serve at the pleasure of the governor, most people are amazed that we've identified only 30 that we intend to replace."

While some officials in the outgoing administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) have criticized the manner and timing of the firings, several people who directed previous transitions could find little fault with Ehrlich's decision to send letters.

"There really isn't a graceful, stylish way to tell someone that their services are no longer needed," said lobbyist Mike Canning, who helped assemble the administration of Gov. Harry R. Hughes (D) in 1979.

Hogan said that Ehrlich has no plans for a sweeping expulsion of state workers and that future personnel changes will be left to the discretion of the Cabinet secretaries.

Still, the delivery Monday of 30 termination notices by a tall, thin, overcoated figure quickly dubbed "trench-coat man" by his targets has prompted many nervous state workers to start buffing their re{acute}sume{acute}s. The letters, signed by Hogan, informed workers that Ehrlich appointees would "be assuming responsibility for your position" when Ehrlich is sworn in at noon today.

"All these people are sitting on the edge of their chairs," said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They don't know if they're going to go" next.

Yesterday, "trench-coat man" was identified as James Fox, an employee relations officer with the state Department of Budget and Management, by a state worker who recognized him as he went about his grim rounds.

Fox did not return calls to his office; his supervisor, Catherine Hackman, declined to comment on the role her department played in the firings.

Hogan said he knows only that the letters went out through the "regular courier system of state government" at the request of Ehrlich's transition team, which has hired replacements for the terminated workers. "We didn't want to put them in the awkward situation of having a new assistant secretary show up to work at the same desk," Hogan said.

One person who will keep her desk is Anne S. Ferro, administrator of the Motor Vehicle Administration. Del. Robert L. Flanagan (R-Howard), Ehrlich's nominee to head the Department of Transportation, said he asked the transition team to reconsider her firing after he learned about it late Monday.

Ferro, 45, is widely admired for improving customer service, cutting the average wait for driver's licenses and other transactions from 70 minutes to 35 minutes during the past five years. Outgoing Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari called Ferro "the most professional, competent and customer-friendly MVA administrator in the country."

Yesterday, Flanagan agreed with that assessment, saying Ferro has "excellent skills." Sources in both parties said Ehrlich's team sought to dismiss Ferro because they had identified someone who wanted her job, not because they were unhappy with her performance.

"The governor, in order to effectuate policy, needs to have people whose loyalty to him is without question. That's a major factor in the decision making," Flanagan said. "Another factor is the quality of the person, the skills they bring to the job and their reputation."

Ehrlich officials declined again yesterday to identify those targeted for dismissal. Glendening administration sources identified 16: eight environmental officials, three economic development officials, two officials at the Department of Human Resources, the head of the Governor's Office of Minority Affairs and two transportation officials, including Ferro.

Campaign finance records show that half of the 16 gave money to the campaign of Ehrlich's Democratic gubernatorial opponent, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Others seemed to carry little political baggage. Republicans and Democrats alike, for example, were hard-pressed to explain the ouster of a division head in the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Robin Grove, who served for six years in the department, found his walking papers on his desk in a sealed envelope marked CONFIDENTIAL.

Portrayed as a nonpartisan, Grove is known as a workaholic who oversaw 22 programs.

"I think mine was just a name on the list," said Grove, who spent yesterday taking calls from well-wishers and parceling out the stacks of work on his desk.

"It's a wonderful part of the democratic process that allows for wholesale change, and I respect that," he said. "I just wish they'd given me more than a day and a half."

Staff writers Anita Huslin and Nelson Hernandez and database editor Dan Keating contributed to this report.

MVA Administrator Anne S. Ferro has been praised for reducing the amount of time it takes to obtain driver's licenses.