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Interim sheriff too cozy a choice

Every so often, the power brokers who prefer to work behind the scenes just have to step forward. It’s not that they want to; it’s just that things, you know, sometimes have a way of getting out of hand.

Can’t let that happen. To stop it, you gotta do what you gotta do.

We saw it a year ago when the Disney Co. had to pull a last-minute stunt on an Anaheim council member to forestall her vote on the company’s resort district plans.

And we saw it this week when the nexus between law enforcement and Republican Party politics in Orange County came into sharp focus.

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The party’s hand was forced as Sheriff Mike Carona’s hold on his job became increasingly tenuous. Under federal indictment on corruption charges, Carona had returned to office Jan. 7 after a two-month paid hiatus but decided to step down this week so he could get free legal help -- something he couldn’t do if he stayed.

Slight problem. Who would take over?

When he took his initial leave, Carona tapped loyalist Jo Ann Galisky to run the department.

Slight problem. It’s unclear whether the county party would fall in behind her as the permanent face of local law enforcement.

However, it would fall in line behind Jack Anderson, an assistant sheriff and member of the party’s central committee. So, Carona, who made it clear this week he wanted Anderson to succeed him on a permanent basis, named him second in command. He couldn’t name him undersheriff, the position Galisky held, because Anderson didn’t meet the county requirements for the post. Before he left office, Carona demoted Galisky.

Was Anderson Carona’s choice? Or the county party’s choice?

What’s the difference?

Anderson met the press Tuesday, assisted not by any of the paid Sheriff’s Department spokesmen, but by Adam Probolsky, an ex-officio member of the GOP’s central committee and a volunteer with the Sheriff Department’s reserve program.

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Probolsky serves on a few local governmental positions and is a pollster by trade. He said he helped Anderson in his role as volunteer reserve. He has stepped in for the county on other matters, Probolsky said, such as helping out with media during the protracted wildfire season. All he did for Anderson, Probolsky said, was provide reporters with names of public officials who had worked with Anderson and could offer perspective on him.

Not to be naive, but I asked Probolsky -- well-known as an unapologetic political animal -- if politics shouldn’t have been separated from Anderson’s press event.

“I don’t think you have to separate the politics,” he said.

The central committee is sprinkled with names of people holding elective office, he noted, adding that the Sheriff’s Department is a political office, as well.

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I asked him how he happened to be at Anderson’s event. “Did I get a call from a higher power?” Probolsky said. “No. I took it upon myself to say, ‘Here’s a project I think I can help with.’ ”

Fair enough. Although earlier in our conversation, he said, “When the acting sheriff asks you to join your team, you step up to the plate.”

This isn’t about Probolsky or even Jack Anderson.

This is now about the Board of Supervisors.

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You would think that, when looking for a permanent replacement for a sheriff under indictment for corruption, the last place you’d look is his inner circle.

I regret that that sounds like a knock on Anderson, because it isn’t meant that way. For all I know, he may be the most competent man in the department.

But he has supported a sheriff charged with corruption. And, to be as charitable as possible, Carona’s record of picking top aides is somewhat suspect. For starters, his longtime No. 2 man just finished a stint in jail, and he and another assistant sheriff have both pleaded guilty in the same investigation that ensnared Carona.

Whatever his talents may be, Anderson is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Or so you’d think.

To smooth the transition, the board has approved Anderson to run the department while it looks for a permanent replacement to serve until the 2010 election.

Even that would strike some observers as insulting, but I’m a big boy and can live with it.

But long-term? Giving a Carona loyalist the huge advantage that would come with being the incumbent sheriff at the next election?

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I know how I’d answer that one.

So, no doubt, does the county GOP, which never saw the need to ask Carona to step down. In the weeks ahead, I’m sure it’ll also be happy to help the board make its final decision on the next sheriff.

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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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