IF MARION BARRY has posted any help-wanted notices around the country seeking top talent for his next administration, he might well add a line that "talkers need not apply." Having fired one budget official and reportedly informed at least two other aides that they will be suspended for two weeks without pay for their comments to a reporter, Mr. Barry says city employees "can be in line or they can look for another job." The idea, he says, is for his administration "to speak with one voice."
It's loud, if not clear. What caused the one voice to growl were statements by subordinates seeming to dispute the mayor's contention that certain city agencies were overspending their budgets. Such statements not only make a boss look bad but, according to said boss, are inaccurate. Mr. Barry says he does not object to city employees talking to the press, but he objects to "people talking out of line." If they are to talk to the press, he says, they should be briefed on the mayor's policies and not talk only about portions of them.
Whatever the discrepancies in the two accounts of spending--and, as we understand it, each version may have been correct, depending on what figures you include where -- firing is heavy punishment for a first alleged offense. Whether this penalty sticks will depend on what procedural appeals and decisions follow; but the intimidating effect on every District government employee is there, and the flow of information to the public is likely to freeze up, at least for a while.
Obviously a mayor must exert control over the official interpretation of what his administration is about. But the public, which the government is supposed to serve, will continue to have questions and the press will continue to seek complete answers. These may be adversary functions, but the process is not well served when the gag rules are too heavy-handed.