D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and his wife Effi -- irritated by criticism from staff members about new mayoral aide Sallie Melendez -- told the mayor's top officials at a closed-door Cabinet meeting yesterday they should seal their lips or quit.

To scattered applause, Effi Barry concluded her talk by hugging Melendez. The mayor then called for an unusual five-minute break, during which Effi Barry, Melendez and Alexis H. Roberson, director of employment services, conferred privately in the back of the second-floor meeting room at the Reeves Municipal Center.

Barry said yesterday he has given his wife Cabinet rank as first lady of the District and that it is not unusual for her to participate in Cabinet meetings.

The mayor's Cabinet, whose makeup is not defined under city law, is composed of nearly 40 top officials who are heads of agencies or departments.

"I have my own way of managing and governing," Barry said. "She makes a lot of appearances on behalf of the city and she makes a lot of sacrifices with me not being home. We are a team."

The mayor, referring to recent administration retreats, said, "She didn't go as my wife. She went as a brilliant person."

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Melendez, a former Oakland public relations official, was hired as a Barry aide seven weeks ago at an annual salary of $63,185 but until yesterday had no specific duties.

In her brief talk, Effi Barry admonished staff members who work in the mayor's offices on the fifth floor of the District Building to be more supportive of Melendez. Sources quoted the mayor's wife as saying, "I want to welcome her."

Barry said "Effi was speaking about the process. When the mayor makes a decision, everybody has got to support it. If you can't support it, go home."

Effi Barry maintains an office in the mayor's suite at the District Building and uses the services of a city-employed special assistant. She does not receive a city salary.

At the Cabinet meeting, Barry characterized staff aides who have spoken to the media without attribution as "chicken-shit employes" and, in an interview yesterday, he said he wanted the characterization published.

Barry said he told his Cabinet he plans to institute "new rules" for staff contacts with the news media, but declined yesterday to disclose them.

Melendez's hiring caused a serious drop in staff morale, according to many longtime Barry aides, several of whom are paid far less than Melendez. Both Barry and his aides have said the mayor needs to hire more assistants to deal with a crushing workload in his office, but these aides contend Melendez knows little of Washington and has "I have my own way of managing and governing."

-- Marion Barry

brought no significant skills to the office.

Melendez has declined to comment, referring questions to Barry.

Melendez, who previously worked for the mayor of Oakland and a private development firm there, was hired by Barry in September while he was visiting Oakland for a major league baseball meeting. Barry said in an interview on Thursday that he hired Melendez because she came highly recommended by several people there, including city council member Leo Bazile, a longtime friend of Barry's.

"She's a good brain, she's a good team player and knows how to get the job done," Barry said.

Government and private industry officials in Oakland indicated in interviews that Melendez had few major responsibilities there.

Yvonne Garcia, chief of staff to Mayor Lionel Wilson of Oakland, and Melendez's supervisor during 1985 and 1986, said this week that Melendez "did an assortment of things . . . . Sallie and the mayor reached some kind of agreement and she actually had the title {of press secretary} . . . . I'm not real aware of all that Sallie did."

Melendez joined Barry's staff Oct. 1, but until yesterday held no specific title and was not assigned regular duties. Barry said Thursday she will now serve as his liaison to about a dozen offices and agencies, including arts and humanities, employment services, cable television, the Washington Convention Center, communications, the mayor's press secretary and business and economic development.

Barry said Melendez's liaison role will entail reviewing the paper flow between the agencies and the mayor's office, and making certain that his instructions are being carried out by the department heads. Aides said it remained to be seen whether senior officials would be cooperative in working with Melendez, or whether the arrangement would prove to be efficient.

Barry previously has expressed anger at aides who have criticized his handling of his office.

Two months ago, aides who declined to be identified said the mayor was not paying enough attention to his job. Barry lashed out at them, saying, "Those people who won't give their names don't represent my point of view and they shouldn't be working for me."