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DANA PARSONS / ORANGE COUNTY

Voting for public officials shouldn't be hit-or-miss

May 31, 2008|DANA PARSONS

Life is full of disappointments, but there's no point in sitting around and complaining about it. So, rather than lament being on vacation last week and missing the Board of Supervisors' 12-hour interview session Tuesday with the nine Orange County sheriff candidates, I'm moving on.

To make matters worse, our office computers can't download the video of the marathon event, so I couldn't even carve out a 12-hour chunk of time upon my return to watch the proceedings.

When it rains, it pours.

Just because I missed the extravaganza, though, doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about it. To the contrary, I've thought of little else since I got back.

For starters, would it be better to appoint our sheriffs all the time instead of electing them? Mayors or city councils generally pick the police chiefs. Don't chiefs do pretty much what sheriffs do?

What the heck does the public know about electing a sheriff, anyway? We thought we had an ace in Mike Carona, who was elected three times, resigned in January and faces federal corruption charges which he says he will beat.

Who knew?

Our election-day fallibility isn't limited to sheriffs. California reelected a governor, Gray Davis, in 2002 and then recalled him less than a year later. The country reelected George Bush in 2004, and his approval ratings now are in the 30% ballpark.

Do we really know what we're doing when we go to the polls?

Let's not go there. Suffice it to say it isn't a precise science.

While we figure it all out, Carona's resignation means that the five supervisors will appoint a successor to fill his term until the 2010 election. Whoever they pick will have a big advantage as the incumbent, so it's a critical choice.

Is there any reason to think the five supes can do a better job than voters in plucking a rose from a bouquet of candidates?

That was a rhetorical question.

I've asked myself why I, supposedly an informed guy, voted for Carona the first two times.

I dunno.

To tell the truth, I don't even remember for sure if I did. That should tell me something. I remember who got my vote for president in every election. Why can't I remember with certainty who I wanted to be sheriff? The answer, I hate to say, is that I probably didn't know much about the sheriff candidates and made some kind of gut-level choice.

I have a hunch I'm not alone in those kind of votes.

But back to the Board of Supervisors. When musing about whether they're more informed than I (or you), here's something to ponder: In at least one way, when it comes to picking the next sheriff, the board will know something the rest of us wouldn't.

First, it hopes to winnow the field to three next week, according to Mario Mainero, chief of staff for Supervisor John Moorlach.

When it does, those three will be subjected to a fairly thorough background check by an investigator certified by the state Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training, Mainero said.

In addition to run-of-the-mill issues from the candidates' personnel files, the investigation would broaden and presumably uncover any potentially damaging information -- if it exists -- about the finalists, Mainero said.

It struck me that the public never gets that thorough a look at the candidates, unless a competing campaign dishes it out. But even then, the public doesn't always believe it, assuming that allegations about excessive drinking or gambling or whatever are just dirty politics.

We vote for a candidate because he seems like a cool guy or looks good in a uniform or because we know that's what the county Republican Party would want us to do.

How much can we really know?

I asked Mainero if the supervisors would reveal publicly any juicy stuff that might be used to disqualify a finalist, but he said he doubted they would. Most likely, he said, it would be treated as a confidential personnel item.

Still, inquiring minds might want to know.

Unless someone amends the state Constitution, we'll keep electing county sheriffs. Fine by me, but I can't help but wonder if we're qualified.

But just about the time I'd argue that the supervisors might be savvier than the rest of us, I remember this: We elected them, too.

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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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