How to pick a sheriff: Lesson 1

Times Staff Writer

Orange County supervisors last week asked for the public's input on the selection of the next sheriff, seeking questions the board should ask of the candidates and criteria on which nominees should be evaluated.

On Tuesday, 23 people weighed in at an afternoon hearing.

Some were politicians or people with a vested interest in the outcome, some were regulars who frequently appear before the board, and some actually seemed to be members of the public interested in the issue.

Their comments went beyond mere questions and standards, instead advocating for and against specific candidates, citing biblical scripture as a guide to the process ("We need a Joshua") and, in one case, railing about run-ins with the law.

A preponderance of speakers said the candidate should be from, or familiar with, Orange County, even though the board expressly chose to conduct a nationwide search for candidates. The speakers were split on whether the sheriff should come from inside or outside the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

Several agreed that recent events, including the indictment of former Sheriff Michael S. Carona and revelations of wayward behavior by jail deputies, had given the department a "black eye" and that the overriding quality to look for in the next sheriff is one thing: integrity.

Some of their questions and suggestions:

"What are some examples of how [a candidate] emphasized principles over politics?"

"I think the next sheriff of Orange County must live in Orange County."

"How long has it been since they were on the street?"

"The person has to be a servant-leader, in my point of view."

"What experience do you have with a community-oriented policing program?"

"The next sheriff of Orange County should have integrity and should not be a politician."

"What is their history of volunteer work? How did they improve their community when they weren't getting paid for it?"

"Demonstrate your commitment to real change by bringing in someone from the outside."

"What was your position on the Sheriff's Department and the sheriff in 2006 [an election year] and what did you do about it?"

"What is their position on illegals in the county jails?"

"I think it would be nice if we could find a sheriff who was reasonably competent and reasonably honest. I know that's a high hurdle to get over."

Board Chairman John Moorlach thanked the speakers for their suggestions. Nearly 50 candidates have applied for the position, and the board plans to narrow the field in the coming weeks, with a final decision in early June.


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