PRINCE GEORGE'S County Executive Parris Glendening -- whose string of overwhelming election victories is tops among any of his regional counterparts -- has wasted no time preparing the county for the fiscal straits ahead. Not only is Mr. Glendening already tackling one of the most unpleasant jobs facing the area's leaders in the coming months -- shrinking the payroll -- but he also has made 13 high-level appointments that should strengthen the top ranks of government for the pull to come. While the layoffs are nothing to cheer about, Mr. Glendening so far enjoys the understanding, if not the blessing, of union leaders -- which certainly helps to make these necessary adjustments in the fairest ways possible. The leadership -- in the government as well as in the unions -- set an excellent example for the other jurisdictions in this region.
At this point, Prince George's is facing an estimated $49.9 million revenue gap in its nearly $1 billion budget and will lay off 190 county employees in mid-January, according to Mr. Glendening (who is cutting 10 people from his own office). "Of all the decisions I have had to make in 20 years in public life," he said last week, this has clearly been the most difficult and truly heart-wrenching." But Mr. Glendening advised constituents that "unfortunately, there is no alternative."
In the announced layoffs are 81 "general government" employees, 69 in health and environmental services, 20 in public works and transportation and 10 each in public safety (no police officers) and the justice system. To avoid layoffs in the fire department, the firefighters' union voted without dissent "to take a flexible interpretation of holiday overtime pay" requirements in its contract, which will amount to a saving. William Proctor, business agent of Council 68 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents nearly 1,000 county workers, took an enlightened view: "Obviously, it's unfortunate. We're saddened by the whole thing, but we also recognize the reality of the situation the county is in. We're all biting the bullet to the extent that we have to." Unions elsewhere in Greater Washington, should follow this example. Another 649 unoccupied positions will remain vacant. Thus the total county work force will shrink from 5,939 authorized positions to 5,100 actual job-holders.
To help lead the government, Mr. Glendening has promoted his budget director to the top administrative job, which not only puts a highly regarded expert in the position but also makes Major F. Riddick Jr. the first black person in the Washington suburbs to hold the top county staff position. As it happens, of Mr. Glendening's 13 new appointments -- most of them promotions from within -- eight are black employees and six are women. Mr. Glendening emphasized that he "selected the very best in terms of people who moved up through the administration, some black, some female, some white male. There were no predetermined ratios or goals."
But as Mr. Riddick observed, "Obviously, there's some historic significance. This makes a fairly strong statement by this administration in terms of its commitment to a diverse and progressive team." That it does, and all residents of the county can take comfort in the preparations their county executive has taken carefully but quickly to put Prince George's in a good position to address tough times.