IT OCCURS TO US that we haven't heard a single complaint about the work of the D.C. Board of Appeals and Review in the months since Joseph P. Yeldell was relegated to its chairmanship. Never mind that nobody's ever been all that clear about the duties of this tiny agency -- it's kept Mr. Yeldell officially away from the Department of Human Resources, to which so many people in this city looked for help in vain during the five sorry years that he presided over that agency.

But now there is disturbing word that Mayor Washington is considering some new way to guarantee Mr. Yeldell's $47,000-a-year salary. The mayor is said to be creating a special assistant position in his office as a contingency job for Mr. Yeldell while various investigations of DHR continue.

Now there's a nice example to set: To earn a comfortable public job with an important-sounding title in the Walter Washington administration, the first thing to do is botch the job you had heading the agency that deals with the community's least fortunate families. Then give the mayor a hard time about leaving. And if things still get a little hot, throw in a few hints about possible damaging stories that may leak out at the expense of the mayor and his cabinet. Do all that, and you can count on a job.

Yes, it's a wretched way to run a city. But as long as Walter Washington is mayor, there is not likely to be much improvement. The mayor is simply not prepared to deal with the encumbrances of old associations. And in personnel system that desperately needs overhauling (the city council's working on that), there are plenty of sinecures for old friends and unresponsive bureaucrats.

You could argue, of course, that Mr. Yeldell in some new, vague city hall job would be infinitely better than Mr. Yeldell back at his old stand in DHR. The case for his removal from DHR was made long before any of the recent charges of illegality or impropriety ever arose. But if Mr. Yeldell must have shelter in city hall for the life of the Walter Washington administration, his present places strikes us as the most innocuous one.