MAYBE IT'S the pollen count, or perhaps the recession, but something seems to be effecting the atmosphere in the upper, levels of local government around the region. Not only are more than a few people quitting school boards and other positions of city and suburban leadership, but many of those still holding office are a tiny touchy these days about how they and their actions are regarded. Be it in the bunkers of Upper Marlboro or the District Buklding, the chief executives appear to have gone on the defensive.
One report, for example, has it that Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan tried to get the police to place a labor leader under surveillance when negotiations with public-employee unions got to a strike-threat stage at one point three months ago. Though Mr. Hogan says he merely "suggested that they keep an eye on" the official in the event of a strike, the result was a call by Mr. Hogan's assistant (and son), Lawrence Jr., to Police Chief John McHale -- who had the good sense to recommend against the surveillance. "I didn't think there was much of a threat," says the chief. "I didn't think it warranted 24-hour, round-the-clock surveillance."
Meanwhile, back at the District Building, Mayor Barry has ordered some protection for h imself, too, He's closed the press office on his floor and barred reporters from normal access to that entire corridor, which including the offices of many of his top assistants. What's left in the way of public information, press of communications services is now located three floors below the mayor.
Some critics in and out of government were quick to interpret the mayor's maneuver as an attempt to curb coverage or manage the news more to his liking. But this rearranging can hardly be characterized as a major human-rights violation. It only makes things a little less cozy for a press that shouldn't depend on coziness anyway. And, ever looking at the bright side, with finances what they are (whatever that meant at last count), there's something to be said for consolidating what had been a two-office communications operation. Besides, the mere moving of furniture or closing of a corridor doesn't change the way an administration is regarded by the public -- only Mayor Barry and his aides can do that. What they accomplish, fail to accomplish or say will be the basis on which people will make up their minds about the leadership of local government, not the question of whether they disclose it through one or another spokesperson or in this corridor or that.