ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Following One’s Own Advice


Harriett M. Wieder is this year’s chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. In such a high-profile position, with the board fresh from scandal, she needs to show better judgment.

Several months ago, before Don R. Roth pleaded guilty to ethics law violations and quit as supervisor, Wieder correctly lambasted his staff for letting a businessperson treat them to an expensive lunch. She thundered that Roth’s staffers “just don’t get it” and had received a free lunch only because of their position.

Now comes the news that Wieder herself took a lunch at a pricey restaurant where the tab averaged $32 per person and the total bill was around $1,500. Picking up the tab were lobbyists whose clients do business with the county, or hope to. Wieder says the incidents differ because, in her case, the lobbyists happen to be former members of her staff. She claims they amounted to “family and friends” who were congratulating her on becoming board chairman. This time it is Wieder who just doesn’t “get it.”


The Board of Supervisors last month belatedly passed a good ethics law that it says is the toughest in the state. The ordinance virtually bans gifts to 1,650 county officials and employees. It has some exceptions, such as permitting gifts of less than $50 offered as congratulations or condolences. Wieder contends that, even under the new law, her lunch would be allowed, because it was under $50 and was intended as congratulations. But Shirley Grindle, a former county planning commissioner and tireless campaigner for good government, says Wieder is wrong. Grindle helped draft the new ordinance on gifts, and we agree with her. Labeling a similar future lunch “congratulations” might get around the letter of the law, but it would certainly violate its spirit.

Wieder says she will not run for reelection when her term ends next year. In her remaining time in office, she would do well to follow her earlier test for accepting any gift: “If you weren’t in public office, would you get it?” That will let her constituents remember her for the good things she has done, not the free lunches.