Prince George's County Executive-elect Lawrence Hogan, who promised during the campaign that if elected he would cut the county budget, yesterday appointed a 13-member transition team to help him with a task that he now admits will be extremely difficult.
"Maybe I'm wrong (about being able to cut the $443 million budget)," Hogan said yesterday at his first press conference since defeating incumbent Democratic County Executive Winfield Kelly. "Maybe I'll have to come back in a few months and apologize and say I'm wrong. But I'm not ready to say that now . . . we're going to do everything we can to accomplish it.
During the campaign, Hogan said that he had in his possession a study that showed how he could cut between $33 and $43 million from the budget. He would not reveal the details of that study, however, saying that "the voters will just have to trust me."
At yesterday's press conference, Hogan attempted to downplay the study. He said it was just one of many plans he was looking at and that he was not bound to follow it.
Hogan's transition team, working on a volunteer basis between now and his Dec. 4 inauguration, is headed by Bowie Mayor Audrey Scott and includes a wide assortment of unsuccessful Republican candidates, disaffected Democrats and names from the past, such as William Gullett, the Republican county executive from 1971 to 1975.
The two most prominent Democrats on Hogan's team are County Council Chairman Francis W. White, who was purged from the party organization this year but came back to win a seat in the House of Delegates, and Darlene Z. White, another member of the council who fell out of favor with her party's leader.
Francis White said he was working with Hogan to make the transition "as smooth as possible." Darlene White, who did not seek reelection, is said to be a prospective employe in the Hogan administration.
Hogan said that he has already met with several key department heads in the Kelly administration, although not with Kelly himself, and that he wanted his transition aides to go into every department and report back on possible budget cuts and changes.
"There has been a tremendous spirit of cooperation so far," Hogan said. "We have gotten reassurances from the County Council, the House and the Senate members (all Democrats) that we will go forward in a non-partisan fashion. I'm not going to go out looking for confrontations."
Hogan said he was aware that rumors were "flying around" that many county employes would lose their jobs because of his commitment to reduce the budget.
"I want to reassure everyone that there are no plans for any kinds of RIFs (reductions in force) at this time," he said. "I'm not going to go in with a meat cleaver We're going to move slowly, carefully, not precipitously."
The 50-year-old former three-term congressman, who carried nearly 60 percent of the vote in ousting Kelly, said he considered that vote a mandate to make changes at the top, but he would not say what department heads he would replace, if any. "I'm confident that I will not replace all of Mr. Kelly's appointees," Hogan said. "Some are very professional and nonpartisan."
Although the police rank and rifle, who strongly supported Hogan's election, has given Police Chief John Rhoads a "no-confidence" vote and requested his early retirement, Hogan said he was not prepared to follow through on that request. He did indicate, however, that it would please him if several old-line policemen in the department's middle echelon chose to retire.
"One thing my transition team has been charged with doing is finding out what I can and can't do, but I would hope there could be some changes in the police department," Hogan said. "I think there's been some stultification of the second line - I'd like to see some of the old-timers retire."
Hogan said that alleviating the tensions between the predominantly white police force and the growing black community would be "a high priority" of his administration.
The overwhelming passage of a Proposition-13 style charter referendum that would freeze the property tax levy at the 1979 level, Hogan said, indicated that the county's taxpayers were demanding "a smaller and less bloated government."
"It definitely is going to be a big challenge to live with TRIM (the acronym for the charter amendment)," Hogan said. "I'm hoping I can get the county employes to tell me where they think things can be cut. If we end up in a situation where TRIM forces us to cut into muscle, rather than fat, then we'll have to take another look at it."
Hogan, who had attacked Kelly for proposing or implementing various "nuisance taxes" in the last four years, said he hoped the property tax freeze would not force him to do anything of that nature.
"I'm confident that with a healthier economy in Maryland we can get enough additional revenue from other sources - such as the sales tax - that we won't have to worry about more taxes," said Hogan.