Political infighting could cast Carson in poor light in NFL stadium race

Carson city officials hurl accusations at each other in attempt to lure an NFL team

The day after a chaotic Carson City Council meeting that included allegations of corruption and threats of litigation, one of the most vocal proponents of the city's proposed $1.7-billion professional football stadium said toxic politics could undermine the project.

"This could jeopardize an NFL stadium being built here," said Jim Dear, mayor of Carson for more than a decade before stepping down in March after being elected city clerk.

Though Carson's City Council unanimously approved a ballot initiative in April to move forward with the proposal, the discord casts the city in an unwelcome light in the midst of the competition to return the NFL to Los Angeles.

Dear's comments came less than 24 hours after his outburst at Tuesday's City Council meeting in a dispute stemming from uncounted ballots cast in the June 2 election to fill one of two vacant council seats.

During the meeting, Mayor Albert Robles led an unexpected effort that appointed Jawane Hilton, a local pastor, to the council for the seat Robles vacated in April to become mayor.

One of the three councilmembers, Elito Santarina, walked out in protest and accusations flew between Robles and Dear.

Over the weekend, Dear, accompanied by two sheriff's deputies, changed the combination to the safe in City Hall where the ballots reside. Robles expressed suspicion while Dear said the combination hadn't been changed since the 1990s.

As the confrontation at the meeting continued, Dear shouted and strutted around the council chambers.

"I'm going to answer the false accusations and lies that this corrupt little Al Robles has brought," Dear said.

Dear promised a lawsuit. He called former Carson Mayor Vera DeWitt, a longtime adversary, "Vera the evil DeWitch." He threatened to embarrass Robles.

"There's a lot more I know about your background that will be revealed in due time," Dear said. "The people of Carson will not put up with this tomfoolery."

Onlookers booed. Dear later stormed out of the meeting and didn't return.

"I've seen a lot of stuff, but I've never seen anything like that," Robles said Wednesday. "I was embarrassed for our city and just disappointed."

In an interview, Dear said Robles' actions endangered the stadium for "political gain."

"It is horrible for our image," said Dear, who more than quintupled his $22,000 salary as mayor by moving to clerk.

"They are behaving as though the NFL deal is dead for Carson. I think we have a chance but they are damaging our chances by their behavior. They are showing the NFL and the world that Carson is rampant with corruption. Which football team ownership builds a stadium in a city with corrupt council members?"

While the histrionics convey a sense of Carson's fractious political landscape, they're unlikely to have any practical effect on the stadium project that's racing ahead. Dear joined four other members of a city authority overseeing the stadium site in approving a $180,000 contract with a consultant Tuesday to oversee its environmental remediation. It's one more step toward building the 70,000-seat stadium.

The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, which would share the privately financed stadium, have agreed to reimburse Carson for all expenses connected to the effort.

Dear had previously been effusive in his public support of the deal. Robles said the political turmoil is of "no consequence" to the deal.

"He's trying to create the perception that if the NFL decides not to come to Carson, that it's because of this political turmoil and therefore, as the mayor, I would be responsible for it," said Robles.

"We're looking into ways to circumvent the city clerk because he will not hold the city of Carson, its residents or the project hostage for his own political gains. This project is going to proceed."

Mark Fabiani, point man on stadium issues for the Chargers, said the matter is an "internal issue" in Carson.

"We don't anticipate that the dispute will impact our progress there," he said.

But a solution doesn't appear to be at hand. Dear said Tuesday's move is designed to allow Robles to fill the final vacant seat in the five-member council, avoid an election and control the panel.

Faced with what the Robles-led council saw as repeated delays in certifying Hilton as the winner of the June election, two of the three members voted last week to hire a former Compton city clerk to complete the count.

Dear, who had been attending a conference in Riverside last week, responded to the move with a plan to seek an injunction to block the count. That led to Robles' end-around during Tuesday's meeting by appointing Hilton to the second vacant seat rather than waiting for the certification of his election.

Hilton, who leads the June 2 election by 18 votes pending a hand recount next week, blamed the verbal sparring on Dear trying to run the city from the clerk's office.

"This is Jim Dear losing his power," Hilton said. "It's a new day in Carson and he's not excited about it. … We're going to look better because he is not leading our city."

Dear, however, doesn't think the council had a quorum to appoint Hilton — only two members remained after Santarina departed — and plans to sue.

Robles is upset by the entire situation.

"Why [Dear] insists on postponing, on delaying the inevitable is beyond my comprehension," he said. "It makes absolutely no sense."

On Tuesday, the politicking didn't end when Dear left the council chambers.

Long after the departure, Councilmember Lula Davis-Holmes proposed removing Dear's name from the boulevard that runs through the 157-acre former landfill where the stadium would sit. Dear spearheaded an effort to rename the street after himself in 2011. Davis-Holmes wants the name erased.

Applause filled the room.

nathan.fenno@latimes.com

Twitter: @nathanfenno

richard.winton@latimes.com

Twitter: @lacrimes

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