NOT SURPRISINGLY, more than a few of our local taxpaying readers have found it hard to swallow Dr. Ernest Hardaway's prescription for happiness and self-aggrandizement as D.C. public health commissioner--which has included requests for his very own personalized firefighter's hat, coat, siren, flashing lights and expensive communications equipment to adorn his newly remodeled office and the new car that goes with it. But it turns out that there's more to this story than just the costly quirks and perks of a bureaucrat: even his own boss is having to work around him to prevent the deterioration of important city medical functions and the loss of top talent.

That's the message in the latest news from the Department of Human Services, where director David E. Rivers has had to rescue a troubled medical examiner's office by telling its officials to report directly to him and by taking responsibility for this office away from Dr. Hardaway. One good result has been the agreement of Dr. Douglas Dixon, who had announced his resignation as acting chief medical examiner, to continue in the job. Dr. Dixon, as well as his able predecessor, Dr. James Luke, who resigned in May after 12 years as chief medical examiner, have disagreed strongly with the kinds of budget cuts and staff shortages ordered by Dr. Hardaway, who at the same time was spending and seeking to spend other city money for his own surroundings.

Now without passing judgment on precisely how much staff and money is essential to maintain a good medical examiner's office, we can offer some medical advice to Mayor Barry--and if he wants a second opinion, fine: if the city's human services director has to tell important agencies to go around the public health chief, whose displays of excess in times of financial austerity already are a matter of municipal embarrassment, the bureaucratic obstacle and the embarrassment should be removed.