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Out with Carona

Orange County voters should take matters into their own hands and depose the sheriff.

January 08, 2008

We're not generally fond of recall elections, but we can't help wishing there were one more item on the February ballot -- a vote to pull Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona from office.

Carona has rejected repeated calls, even from his friends, to step down. Instead, he took a two-month leave to prepare his defense, courtesy of the taxpayers, who continued to pay his $200,000-a-year salary. On Monday, he returned to work, but he's apparently not planning to work much -- an undersheriff will continue running the department.

All this should make clear to voters, as well as to Carona, that although he has the legal ability to hang on to his title, he cannot do that with honor. Maybe he isn't running the department because the corruption charges against him are taking up his time, or maybe he recognizes that the damage he has inflicted on the public's trust renders him unable to effectively head a staff whose responsibility is to uphold the law. Either way, he can't do the job.

The Board of Supervisors hasn't managed to talk him into a graceful exit or make it too uncomfortable for him to stay. As an elected official, Carona enjoys extraordinary protections -- which means only the voters can put an end to a bad reign.

Yes, Carona has every right to his day in court, to fight the charges that he traded access to his office and power for gifts and money. But he and his department never would have reached this day, never would have come under scrutiny in the first place, had he run his department with an ethical hand. Instead, from his first day in office, Carona has been selling out the title of sheriff, providing supporters and others close to him with extraordinary favors. Just one example: hiring two top political supporters as his chief assistants even though they were patently unqualified for the jobs, so much so that Carona needed special dispensation to make the hires legal.

Carona has tarnished his department with one scandal after another. This will still be true even if he is cleared of all the charges against him. It is not surprising that the deputies' union has asked him to resign. He has lost the trust of his staff and the public; his name will always be linked more closely with ethical downfall and bad management than with fighting crime. This will haunt his tenure and taint his ability to carry out his duties. Meanwhile, he's forcing the public to pay him for not doing a full-time job.

Mike Carona obviously cares far more about Mike Carona than about his staff, his office or his county. That's always been his problem. But voters don't have to share his values or be his stooges. It's too late for the February election, but voters can, via recall petition, signal Carona that they want him out -- and that if he won't do it, they're prepared to do it for him.

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