Here We Go Again…

By James Abraham

Posted May 20, 2010 in News

There’s no doubt that Colton’s endured its share of sordid politics, scandals and civic drama.

Just two years ago, then-Councilman Ramon Hernandez pleaded guilty to 24 felony counts that involved the improper use of a city-issued credit card and cell phone (allegedly for phone-sex services and hotel visits on, ahem, non-city business—readers: draw your own conclusions).

In 2005, then-Councilman Donald Sanders was sentenced to 17 days in jail after the elected official admitted to taking $40,000 in bribes in a scheme involving erecting billboards on county-owned land. That corruption scandal also ensnared another councilman (James Grimsby) and a high-ranking county supervisor.

Now it’s Colton Mayor Kelly Chastain’s turn to come under fire for alleged misdeeds. But is she being painted in the broad brushstrokes of Colton’s past. Or is she being targeted by an outfit determined to oust her by any means necessary?

The answer may be rather murky and unclear, but here’s what we do know:

Some of Chastain’s political headaches started in 2008. Less than 18 months after taking office, she was the subject of a recall by a group calling itself Citizens For Colton First. But while the group seemed intent on its crusade, its grounds for Chastain’s removal seemed to lack out-and-out high crimes and misdemeanors. Recall documents accused Chastain of  “overall misuse of the mayor’s position” and “complete disregard for residents’ opinions,” as opposed to bribery, cronyism and other arguably serious charges.

Chastain, who was first elected to the council in 1996, has served four terms. Her current term expires this year. She is running for re-election.

Chastain easily survived the recall election with a comfortable margin (62 percent vs. 38 percent of the vote). “Good discussions and dialogue and constructive criticism is fine,” she told reporters at the time. “I think it’s deeper than that. There’s the feeling that one person is after another. I feel the heat.”

Well, the heat is on. Again.

Earlier this year, Colton First accused Chastain of failing to report rental income—as is required by elected officials—and described her using words like “Slum Lord Mayor” because the group alleges the home in question is in disrepair. Chastain is the executor for a trust that controls the home.

“As you can see, this is a horrible, inexcusable situation and it is obvious that more than ethics violations occurred here,” according to Colton First members Steve Cade and Ron Lawrence. “Laws were/are being broken and the whole situation must be investigated by the appropriate authorities!”

Colton First also provided the Weekly with documents (copies of receipts, a report from a private investigator) purporting to support their claims.

But then we check with the authorities and . . .

San Bernardino County’s District Attorney’s office confirmed that it received the complaint but declined to comment further on the merits of the allegations.

We also checked with the California Fair Political Practices Commission. This is the outfit that’s supposed to keep politicians honest and monitor campaign contributions and so forth.

But the commission hasn’t heard of Colton First’s complaints against Chastain, commission executive director Roman Porter tells the Weekly. However, Porter did say that officials must report income from a single source only if it exceeds $500. Interesting. The rent payments that Chastain received—you know, the ones Colton First is crying bloody murder about—range from $180 to $400, below the legal threshold.

And the rental payments went to the trust, Chastain tells the Weekly.

So is this latest attack on Mayor Chastain legit? Or a retread of the last recall (failed) campaign?

“This is overkill,” Chastain tells the Weekly.

But then things get even stranger when the commission tells the Weekly that they are investigating Chastain—but not for the alleged income disclosure violations. This time it’s about allegedly exceeding gift limits.

The smoking gun Colton First has been looking for? Probably not.

The issue stems form an iPod Touch and charger Chastain says she won at a League of California Cities raffle. She estimated the gift’s value at about $400. Officials are prohibited from accepting gifts valued at more than $420 from a single source, Porter says.

So, is another Colton scandal stewing? Or is it politics as usual? “It’s campaign season,” Chastain told the San Bernardino Sun last month.

You said it, Kelly.


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