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Sheriff may be fighting for his principal

ORANGE COUNTY

Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona insists he’s standing on principle by refusing to resign after being indicted on federal corruption charges.

The principle: that he’s innocent until proven guilty

No argument from me on that, but here’s another principle that he may hold even more sacred: He keeps getting paid.

Not only that, but the longer Carona holds on, the more he bumps his pension payout.

It’s not that he’s poor now and staying in office would make him rich. But he’s making a smidge less than $200,000 in base salary and the equivalent of about $9,200 in an annual transportation allowance.

Under the county’s pension system, his pension package would be determined by taking 3% and multiplying it by his number of years of service. I couldn’t find out exactly when he entered the retirement system, but his career with the county marshal’s office began 31 years ago.

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To show you how it works, rounding off to 30 years of service means that Carona would get 90% of his final year’s pay package in pension. Tacking on an additional year would yield 93%; staying on two more years would push him to 96%.

Using his current salary and transportation allowance, 90% of $210,000 is $189,000.

Ninety-six percent comes to $201,600.

Not a gold mine worth of difference, but which would you rather have as your annual payout?

So, I guess you could argue he’s fighting for principle.

At the moment, looks to me like he’s fighting more for principal.

On Friday, Carona announced that he was stepping aside and turning day-to-day management over to Undersheriff Jo Ann Galisky.

Later in the day, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas suggested that the Board of Supervisors urge Carona to take a leave of absence.

Note that Carona merely wants to step aside, instead of step down.

The average citizen will have no idea what his new role means. Is he not going to work? If so, it sounds even more offensive -- he’s an indicted sheriff, but still cashing his paycheck and bulking up his retirement income. If he’d said he was putting himself on administrative leave -- without pay -- his action would mean something.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I assume that Carona actually cares about law enforcement’s image. At 52, he has devoted his entire adult life to it and can be eloquent when talking about the profession of being a cop.

Why can’t he see, then, how he tarnishes the trade by staying in office? Why doesn’t he -- or others -- see that, at the moment, it’s not about guilt or innocence but public confidence? Does he have any grasp of the cynicism that so many people felt when they learned of the corruption allegations?

Speaking of cynicism, these things usually take on a familiar pattern. After some period of denials and indignation, the accused most often takes a plea. Carona need look no further than his own original handpicked top aide, George Jaramillo, to see how that played out.

Let’s take someone closer to Carona’s pay grade. San Joaquin County Sheriff Baxter Dunn was indicted in December 2003 on federal corruption charges. Soon after, local politicians and others demanded his resignation. Dunn refused, vowing to finish out his term. “It’s just politics, plain and simple,” the local papers quoted him as saying. A year later, in January 2005, he pleaded guilty to a count of fraud and agreed to resign.

“The last year of my life has been the most difficult time I have ever endured,” Dunn said when announcing his guilty plea. “I have always accepted responsibility for my conduct in office, and this is no exception. I wish to apologize to the citizens of San Joaquin County and to the many good, hardworking deputy sheriffs and employees of the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department for any suffering I have caused and the unfortunate distraction this matter has generated.”

Touching, except that it took him a year to pull the plug on himself.

If Carona is truly concerned about his department and his reputation, he needs to be the anti-Baxter Dunn and get off the Orange County dime.

Then he can get on with the business of taking on the federal government.

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.


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