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Herman, Citing Criticism, Quits as Riley's Top Aide

March 03, 1987|JOHN NEEDHAM | Times County Bureau Chief

Peter F. Herman, Supervisor Thomas F. Riley's top aide, whose power was so great that he became known as "the sixth supervisor," announced Monday that he is resigning because of renewed criticism of his actions.

Herman, 39, specialized in land-use issues for Riley since becoming an aide more than 11 years ago. His power and what some contended was his heavy-handed use of it earned him the wrath of some developers and some county staff members.

In a letter accepting Herman's resignation "with deep regrets," Riley acknowledged "an endearing quality inherent in your nature, what others have even called a fault or a flaw. You displayed a concern for a balanced environment. . . ."

Herman prided himself on wringing as many concessions for open space and parkland as possible from developers seeking to have projects approved by the county.

It was Herman, a former newspaper reporter, who acted as a liaison between Riley and developers seeking to build projects in Riley's district, which runs along the ocean from Newport Beach south to the San Diego County border and contains some of the last large chunks of undeveloped land in Orange County.

As Riley's point man for development issues, Herman pushed for the expansion of the Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park east of San Juan Capistrano, the green-belt open area in Aliso Viejo, the planned U.S. Fitness Academy in Aliso Viejo and other recreational areas.

Herman's resignation, effective March 13, was released Monday. It was tendered last Friday in a letter to Riley, who accepted his aide's decision the same day.

Herman said in an interview Monday that he did not have another job lined up and was leaving his $63,000-a-year post because of criticism of his activities "over the years" that recently became "especially ugly."

The Orange County Register reported on Feb. 22 that Herman had been heavily criticized by some developers and county employees who found him arrogant.

Last year, the Orange County Grand Jury and the district attorney's office looked into Herman's activities but cleared him of any wrongdoing. In fact, Herman's testimony in a trial 11 years ago helped convict an architect of attempted bribery.

Received Gifts

Herman was, however, the recipient of thousands of dollars of gifts and meals paid for by developers over the years. State law requires that gifts in excess of $50 per year be reported by the following April 1.

Herman's reports for 1985, the most recent year for which he was required to file, showed that he received $5,852.60 from lobbyists, engineering companies, consultants and developers having business with the county. Much of it was listed as wedding gifts.

By contrast, Ernie Schneider, who handled land-use matters for former Supervisor Bruce Nestande before being named director of the county's Environmental Management Agency last year, reported receiving no gifts of $50 or more in 1982, 1983 or 1985. In 1984, Schneider reported receiving $100 worth of Olympics tickets from the Mission Viejo Co. and $111 worth of concert tickets from the Irvine Co.

Wined and Dined

Over the years, Herman has reported being wined and dined by numerous developers, many who were seeking county approval for various projects, including David Stein, a prominent Democratic Party campaign contributor who was the national fund-raiser for the 1984 presidential bid of former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.).

Last April, Herman and his wife stayed in Stein's house in Hawaii for several days while on vacation. Riley said Monday that he was angered at learning only recently that Herman had stayed there.

Herman noted that state law allows the "exchange of gifts of equal value" and that he had given a gift to Stein. The developer has had a number of projects in Riley's district in the past few years that needed approval by the Board of Supervisors.

Herman noted that despite his friendship with Stein, the developer's projects are usually required to be reduced in size before receiving county approval.

Riley said Monday that while he was philosophically opposed to Herman's having stayed in the house of someone requiring county permission for a project, he understood that different people had different styles.

In his letter accepting Herman's resignation, Riley said: "As my executive assistant responsible for advising me on matters involving land-use decisions, you were a defender of the public good and a guardian of this county's precious resources."

Wieder Surprised

Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder, a longtime critic of Herman, said Monday that she was "surprised" by his resignation.

She termed Herman's acceptance of gifts from developers as "inappropriate."

"If he had not been in this situation, he would not have received these things," Wieder said. "He should not have taken or solicited them. But that's water under the bridge."

Wieder added that Herman's gifts from developers represented "an unfortunate situation, and I sure hope it does not reflect on the rest of the staff on the fifth floor" where the supervisors have their offices. "Nor should it, because they're all good folks."

Herman has always contended that the nickname "sixth supervisor" was unwarranted and that he was only heeding Riley's wishes and following the policies established by the Board of Supervisors.

But Riley, who has heard much criticism of his most senior aide in the past, said in an interview three years ago that "occasionally, over the years, I've had to remind Peter that I wear the stars in this office." Riley is a former U.S. Marine Corps general.

Still, Riley said at the time that the title "sixth supervisor" reflected Herman's "knowledge and understanding of land-use issues, which is much better than anybody else's in county government. . . ."

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