My first reaction to Sheriff Mike Carona's decision to place opponent Lt. Bill Hunt on paid administrative leave the day after the primary was something like, "Whaaa?" Initial reports didn't specify what alleged activities by Hunt were being investigated by internal affairs, but given that he was placed on leave I figured the most likely culprit to be the same sort of campaign funds activities for which OCSD Capt. Christine Murray was investigated.
As I commented at the time, I thought Hunt ought to be given the presumption of innocence and the investigation allowed to proceed absent ill-informed speculation.
As readers are no doubt aware, the investigation has nothing to do with fund raising violations and everything to do with criticizing Carona during the campaign.
And that is just wrong.
The Sheriff's counsel Martin Mayer cites a court decision about public criticism of an elected official like a sheriff by his command staff. And I think that is perfectly legitimate in ordinary circumstances. It would difficult for any Sheriff to do the job voters entrusted to them if a member or members of their command staff were publicly lacerating their boss. In such instances, I think the Sheriff can and ought to take disciplinary action -- up to and including termination -- to squelch such public opposition from subordinates.
On the other hand, I think much more latitude is required when a member of the command staff is challenging his or her bass in an election. The necessity of free and frank debate is trumps the ordinary considerations of public command unity that should prevail ordinary circumstances. Bill Hunt had every right as an American to run for Sheriff, even if it was against his own boss. It's a remarkable thing about our political system that such a thing can and does occur.
It's unavoidable that such a situation will produce campaign rhetoric from the challenger seeking to paint the incumbent in a negative light -- and it's unavoidable that rhetoric can have a damaging impact on the OC Sheriff's Department. But that's part of the price we pay for free elections.
I think the Sheriff is on firmer ground with his action against the other two deputies. It's the candidate who deserves the broadest accommodation, and Hunt was the candidate -- not the two deputies. Still, I think forgiveness would be, politically, a more prudent course of action -- and forgiveness does not require forgetting.
Now that he's won re-election, Sheriff Carona might consider the examples of how two powerful ancient Romans dealt with their enemies. Julius Caesar generally forgave his enemies and tried to make them his friends. Sulla's policy is summed up in his self-written epitaph: "No friend ever did him a kindness, no enemy a wrong, without being repaid in full."
Which example should Carona follow? That's makes for an interesting discussion in which it's worth remembering Caesar was stabbed to death by such Brutus and other re-claimed "friends" on the floor of the Senate, while Sulla died peacefully in his country villa.