Supervisors to pick who wears the star


Mike Carona has left a nice little mess for someone to clean up. Is there any reason to believe the Orange County Board of Supervisors is up to the task?

I don’t ask that snidely. It’s just that picking a sheriff isn’t one of the supervisors’ more obvious tasks. They leap into the fray only when a sheriff leaves office prematurely, which Carona did Monday to fight federal corruption charges leveled against him in October.

What ups the ante now, however, is that the board’s decision might well amount to a seven-year term for Carona’s successor. The board’s choice will fill out the remaining three years of his term, through the end of 2010. But Orange County history shows that incumbent sheriffs typically maintain a vise-like grip on the job. That suggests that if the new sheriff runs again in 2010, he or she will have a huge leg up on the field. Sometimes the edge is so great there isn’t even a field.


That is not lost on board Chairman John Moorlach.

“Incumbency is everything,” Moorlach says. “We have to get it right. That’s why we have to be methodical, thorough and fair.”

Moorlach foresees a process that is neither rushed nor unduly protracted. If it takes six months to find the right candidate, he says, he’s willing to do it.

There’s plenty to be nervous about. A sheriff is a political animal, and so are supervisors. One way we try to keep the two camps separate is to elect them separately.

Obviously, Orange County voters won’t elect their next sheriff. The state code decrees that the county board name the successor, so a special election isn’t an option, Moorlach says.

Look at it this way: When Carona won reelection in June 2006, he got 158,000 votes.

The next sheriff will need only three -- a majority of the five-member board.

Moorlach says he wants the decision to be as open as possible. I can’t picture job “interviews” occurring in public, but Moorlach says he’s open to having candidates appear before the board in public session.

I guess you could argue that it’s no different from public campaigning, but a host of questions arise. One session? Two? How many? Scripted questions for everyone? Unlimited questions from board members? Any public involvement? Any way to convince the public that everyone gets a fair shot?


It sounds like a daunting task. Moorlach, the former county treasurer, begs to differ, even joking that “I’m an accountant; I want drama!”

You’re going to get it, pal.

The board may start deciding at its meeting today how to conduct the search. National? Stay inside the department? Limit the field of candidates to a certain number? Which number?

Whom should the board pick? Don’t look at me. I’m not in the sheriff-choosing business, either. I like it when my vote is one of thousands, not one of five.

But the board will have to explain as a matter of fairness, I think, why its choice shouldn’t be former Orange County Sheriff Lt. Bill Hunt.

Without turning this into civics class, I say that only because Hunt was the second-leading vote-getter in the June ’06 election, albeit with only 26.5% of the vote against Carona’s 50.9% in a multi-candidate field. I don’t say that automatically makes him the proper choice, or even that he’s entitled to the job, only that he was one of the handful of candidates who sought the office and -- specifically, in his case as a Carona underling -- did so at great professional risk.

When Carona demoted him right after the election, that became obvious. Hunt later resigned and is now a private investigator.


We talked Monday, and I asked how soon he’d be ready. “I’m ready today,” he said.

He says he’s stayed in touch with former colleagues and that the department is eager to put the Carona headlines behind it. Hunt has already begun campaigning, having spoken to four of the five supervisors in the last couple of months.

I asked if his return, as an anti-Carona symbol, wouldn’t polarize the department. To an extent, he says, leadership is polarizing. But he says he’s convinced that the department is “ready to move on” and would rally behind the right person.

Someone like . . . him?

That’s crystal clear to Hunt. Fair enough. But would he prefer an election? Yes, Hunt says, “because it’s an elected office. The problem with an internal political process is that people don’t necessarily get to speak. But it is what it is. It doesn’t do any good to bemoan the circumstances. All I can do is put my best foot forward and try to win support. If I don’t, I’m not going to be [angry] about it.”


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