By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Small town politics don’t often hit the big time. But the little town of Calhan, Colorado, population 834, is under a big microscope just because of them. File it under “RV parks and politics,” wherein a couple of good ol’ boys on the town council apparently decided their elected positions granted them power to protect and serve – their relatives. It all comes to light in an antitrust lawsuit that hit the U.S. District Court.
How do you mix RV parks and politics?
The players? Cameron Chaussee and his cousin Tyler Chaussee, formerly mayor and town council member, respectively. But how did they mix RV parks and politics? Seems that there are two RV parks in town, one called Cadillac Jack’s RV Park. That outfit, says legal records, is owned by a corporation called Continental Properties. A little more digging reveals the president of the company is one Blake Chaussee, and the corporation secretary is Annette Chaussee. Blake is the former mayor’s dad, and the secretary is his grandmother. Nothing wrong so far.
But in 2018 when the Chaussee boys were in office, a local mobile home park owned by an outfit called Van Sant & Co. got a brilliant idea. The company decided to slowly vacate its mobile home park, and as residents moved away and mobile homes were removed, turn the property into the town’s third RV park, catering to travelers. This would have put the Van Sant operation into direct competition with Cadillac Jack’s, owned by the Chaussee boys’ kinfolk.
New town ordinance
Perhaps it should be no surprise that RV parks and politics suddenly got mixed up. Coincidentally enough, in October 2018 – the month following Van Sant’s planned changes – Chaussee the mayor and Chaussee the council member voted in favor of a new town ordinance. Under that new law, alleges the lawsuit, it would become far more expensive for an RV park to operate in the town of Calhan. But, reads the ordinance, this law exempts existing RV parks from the new changes, so long as they were in operation before November 2018. The vote was unanimous; the two Chaussees joined by one another council member, Roger Lemesany, in a 3-0 vote in favor of the new regulation.
Oddly enough, the town council has seven elected positions, each with one vote. But on the night the new law was put to the vote, one of the council member positions was vacant. Another council member was present, but abstained from voting on the issue – just why isn’t clear in the official town record. Two other council members weren’t present at the meeting. It left the way wide open for a quick and decisive vote.
At issue is the state’s code of ethics for elected officials. That code says when a decision is to be made, if they have a personal interest in the decision, an official must disclose it and recuse themselves from the vote. Officials aren’t permitted by the ethics code to make any decision that would economically harm other businesses if the official has “a substantial financial interest in a competing firm or undertaking.” The attorneys representing Van Sant & Co., the plaintiff in the suit, say they don’t have a “smoking gun” that directly connects either of the Chaussees to that existing RV park, Cadillac Jack’s, but they say they’ll be looking for it as the trial moves to discovery.
Both the mayor Chaussee and the council member Chaussee are no longer on the town council. Questioned by the Denver Post about the issue, other elected officials have clammed up. Neither of the former politicians have made any public comment to the press regarding the action. And those other RV parks? Both Cadillac Jack’s and Jolly RV & Tiny Home Sites are still up and running. The latter opened to RVers in 2015, so it, too, was “grandfathered” under the 2018 law. As to that old mobile home park? It’s now just a bare patch of ground in a little Colorado town.
Photo: google maps