By Carlos Avalos
On January 19th the Press Enterprise released an opinion peace stating that “the attempted recall of Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren was a waste of effort.” It is the Press Enterprise Editorial Board’s view and position that recalls are for getting rid of office holders who have been guilty of malfeasance in office. Malfeasance can be defined as wrongdoing equating to illegal or dishonest behavior. The Press Enterprise then went on to say that political differences should not be settled with a recall attempt but with an election. The Sentinel eagerly concurs. The Sentinel reached out to the Inland Empire First PAC, the people pushing the recall effort. They told the Sentinel the recall effort has nothing to do with political differences. The people behind the recall effort stated that it has to do with what is right and wrong, and this recall effort has bipartisan support throughout the city of Fontana and neighboring cities. Democrats and Republicans do not agree on much these days, be they local, state, or national issues. The same applies in the city of Fontana. But one thing the Republicans and Democrats can agree on in Fontana is that “Warehouse Warren” needs to go. That name was given to Warren by a political action committee that has targeted her for removal from office.
The Press Enterprise has discounted the primary reasons given by the Inland Empire First PAC to justify Mayor Warren’s recall. Let’s try an analysis. First there is the Fontana mayor receiving more than $100,000 in political contributions by special interest groups. Elizabeth Morales, a recall supporter and Fontana activist, told the Sentinel “when a mayor receives money or kickbacks from a person or organization for being friendly to that person or organization’s desired cause and the needs of the city that person represents are put on the back burner, in my mind that constitutes malfeasance.” With Fontana’s mayor, this consists of voting in favor of projects and entities that have contributed to her political piggy bank such as the Fontana Water Company, Burrtec, Trammel Crowe, and Imtex according to the political action committee (PAC).
In regards to the lopsided funding of the helicopter program that the Press Enterprise mentioned as a reason not important enough to recall the mayor, the following is known: With Acquanetta Warren’s backing providing support for the program to Rialto, Colton and Redlands, those cities are not paying their fair share in regards to the program and the cost was skyrocketing, creating a disproportionate share of the burden borne on the backs of the taxpayers in Fontana. According to sources in and outside of the Fontana Police Department, Rodney Jones, the Chief of police at the time the helicopter program was implemented, was caught misappropriating the helicopter funds. Edward Sena a Fontana resident and supporter of the recall told the Sentinel “Fontana residents are already taxed enough, and they were sold on the idea that this program was beneficial to the city for safety and protection, which it might have been originally, but that does not take away from the fact that questionable acts on behalf of the mayor were taking place with the funds of the program. This was either by her being directly involved or a result of her negligence.”
On January 24th Fontana held its regularly scheduled city council meeting. Karen Coleman, a long time resident of Fontana and member of the Fontana Women’s Club, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. She directly addressed Acquanetta Warren. Coleman and the Fontana Women’s Club were concerned about some shady practices by the mayor and people in the organization. Mrs. Coleman described how the women’s club asked for an audit of a $20,000 deal between the city and the women’s club. Specifically, they wanted to know how the first ten thousand dollars was spent. Lena Cothran, Lita Ashton, Becky Peck, Terrie Schneider, Heather Goulay, Nyoka Edy and Connie Avila complained to the city council that they could not pay their utility bills. Ken Hunt, Fontana’s city manager, was notified and the city and the women’s club entered into a $20,000 contract. The women’s club was told that club does not allocate funds, therefore the women’s club would not be provided with the information they requested. Coleman and a few other club members personally went through all of the financial records of the women’s club given to them by Terrie Schneider, the president of the women’s club, locating what appear to them to be some irregularities. There were 42 checks that were never sent to the women’s club but went through the bank.
This represented disbursement of over ten thousand dollars, and there was no copy of the checks. No 1090 forms were ever used. Coleman and members of the women’s club went through every single check and put them in categories as to who received the checks. This might be an honest mistake or coincidence that much of the women’s club money goes back into the pockets of certain members of the women’s club board or their families. Or some people might look at this as misappropriation of funds.
Dave Ashton, husband of board member Lita Ashton, received checks for $1,650. State Farm Insurance Agency owner Phil Cothran, a friend and political associate of Acquanetta Warren, is the husband of women’s club board member Lena Cothran. He received $4,057.03. Phil Cothran also received a finder’s fee check of $400.
Phil Cothran, Jr. received a finder’s fee check for $300. Coleman and members of the women’s club kept coming across checks payable to a mysterious person or entity named AMC. They could not figure out who or what AMC was. They finally found who AMC was and they found it under Phil Cothran’s 700 form. AMC was a management company listed under Phil Cothran’s name. In one day in February 2016 AMC was paid three checks of $1,100, and received a total of $3,900. Another mystery the Fontana women’s club came across was a women names Sharri Butler. She kept receiving checks but no one knew or had heard of her or knew who she was. Sherry Butler is the stepdaughter of Fontana women’s board member Lita Ashton. She received $2,923. A total of $14,220.30 was distributed with no itemization or description of the charges.
The women’s club was told that they did not have enough money to pay their utility bills but surprisingly there were checks paid in the form of donations on behalf of the women’s club. A reasonable question to ask is ‘Why would the women’s club be donating money if they could not take care of their own finances?’
Lena and Phil Cothran donated to the Miss Fontana program $250, and they donated $750 to the Boys and Girls Club, which is run by the president of the women’s club, Terrie Schneider. At the January 24 city council meeting, Karen Coleman told the council directly that Acquanetta Warren came to her house when she started asking questions about the women’s club, and that she also tried to intimidate her and try to make her stop asking questions. Karen Coleman went on to say that she even received a letter from an attorney stating that she could be subject to disciplinary actions if she did not stop talking about and inquiring into the women’s club’s finances. Coleman said she was “going to find the connection between the mayor and this shady deal.”
The Inland Empire First PAC also stated that reckless warehouse development is one of the reasons why its members want Acquanetta Warren to be recalled. The Press Enterprise believes this not to be an issue worthy of a recall. A quick drive on the north end and south end of Fontana will show that warehouses are popping up everywhere. One might build a case that this is a good thing, as more warehouses equal more jobs, more jobs equal people with more money, people with more money living and working in Fontana equals a better economy. Yet even this ideal situation has its drawbacks. More warehouses equals more truckers driving in the city, which equals more pollution, and the number of warehouses alone emits significant amounts of pollution to the city and neighboring cities and San Bernardino County. It is no secret that San Bernardino County has some of the worst pollution in the U.S, and that children born in the county are born at a disadvantage when it comes to their lung capacity. Allen Hernandez environmental activist, organizing manager for the Fontana Sierra Club, and recall supporter told the Sentinel, “time and time again public officials vote in the interests of their own pocket instead of the environment. In the case of Warehouse Warren, she is more concerned about the kickbacks from land developers than having clean air for her constituents.” Additionally, there are questions about the quality and pay level jobs in warehouses provide. The Inland Empire First PAC stated that many of these warehouses are vacant, dormant or otherwise have no one working in them.
According to a report recently produced by the city, only 10 percent of workers who live in Fontana have places of employment that are in Fontana.
Nine percent of Fontana workers travel to nearby Ontario for their jobs, but many more have to drive much longer distances.
Eight percent must go to Los Angeles to work, and the remaining 73 percent trek to other cities.
The Sentinel asked the Inland Empire First PAC members in the community about the Press Enterprise’s claim that this recall was in fact a payback for a 2013 recall effort that removed Leticia Garcia and Sophia Green from their positions as Fontana Unified School District board members. The Sentinel reached out to both women for comment but was only able to reach Leticia Garcia. Leticia Garcia conveyed to the Sentinel that the Fontana mayor had no issue with her until she questioned spending by the after school program that mayor Warren was a champion of. Mrs. Garcia told the Sentinel that she found thousands of dollars spent at the 99 Cent Store on trinkets and items that were irrelevant to the program. Mrs. Garcia spoke up about the wasteful spending and was then targeted by Mayor Warren, Garcia said.
The Inland Empire First PAC offered the Sentinel a statement that this is a prime example of the mayor trying to control the school board. If a person or group does not go along with Mayor Warren he, she or they are targeted, bullied, or perceived as a threat to Fontana, they say. The Sentinel also asked the PAC behind the recall effort about the Press Enterprise’s suggestion that recall proponents should just wait until next year when there will be another election, and that they should focus their efforts on getting a candidate to challenge Acquanetta Warren. The PAC conveyed to the Sentinel that the reasons given for the recall effort are just the tip of the iceberg and what can be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, and another minute cannot be wasted with her in office. The Sentinel then asked the PAC about the overall claim from the Press Enterprise about the recall effort being wasteful and that there has been no malfeasance on behalf of Mrs. Warren. I quote the PAC’s official response: “The Press Enterprise used the word malfeasance. We do not think the Press Enterprise knows what this word means, and her acts are the definition of malfeasance.”
On Thursday January 26th Acquanetta Warren gave her state of the city address, at the Jessie Turner Center in Fontana. It should be noted that there were protestors loud and vocal about the issues involved in the recall effort, as well as others. The recall effort has an uphill battle to fight to get the signatures to put the recall on the November ballot, but it also appears that trouble might be brewing in Fontana for its mayor.
By Carlos Avalos