After the political shenanigans of Sheriff Michael S. Carona, who left office in midterm to fight corruption charges, Orange County supervisors wisely reached outside the cozy circle of the local power elite for an independent-minded law enforcement leader. That's what they got in Sandra Hutchens, a retired division chief from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. No politician, Hutchens set about reforming some of the worst practices of the Carona years, including the granting of concealed-gun permits to campaign supporters.
The paradox here is that Hutchens' lack of a political bent might be her biggest weakness in an elected office. As she increasingly comes into conflict with the entrenched establishment, she risks being voted out in the next election. And after the supervisors hired Hutchens to lead the department into a new era, the question is whether they really wanted a new era at all.
Supervisors complained about Hutchens' clean sweep on gun permits, accusing her of heavy-handed tactics and insensitivity to the Orange County ethos. Perhaps so, but a change was overdue. An independent review board found this month that Hutchens had acted appropriately. Then a spokeswoman for Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas insinuated that the Sheriff's Department fostered an institutional "code of silence" in which deputies protected other deputies from accusations of abuse. It's worth taking that with a grain of salt: The spokeswoman is the wife of Mike Schroeder, a former consultant to Carona.