Officeholders who earn a living off the public's dime are ultimately answerable to those who elect them.
But few answers are available from Ricky Chastain about why he would -- assuming he did -- exchange at times explicit text messages with someone other than his wife during normal office hours, when there's a reasonable expectation he should be working to serve and protect those who pay his more than $80,000 salary as sheriff: the Laurens County taxpayers. Instead, he appears to have entertained texts from a woman who called Chastain her "shirtless adonis."
Texts attributed to the cellphone number of the four-term sheriff included quick responses of "yes, please," "prove it" or even "ya killing me" during the 6,630-text exchange when the woman sent a suggestive message or a promise of another nude selfie during the seven-month span. But there's been no answer from Chastain since someone leaked those exchanges to a number of media outlets, including the Index-Journal.
Chastain spent days ignoring phone messages and emails from an Index-Journal reporter. That same reporter was told by a receptionist he wasn't in his office during two separate visits. After an unsuccessful attempt to get Chastain to comment on Facebook, a reporter had to find him at a public event just to be told he won't address the texts "at this time." And one would have to think if he was not in any way involved in the exchange, he would have been quick to convene a press conference and proclaim "I did not have textual relations with that woman."
This isn't the first time rumors of an extramarital relationship have dogged Chastain. In 2011, he admitted to having an affair with an employee. That woman, Haley Manley, claimed in a lawsuit that Chastain twice got her pregnant, driving her in his county vehicle to a Charlotte clinic for an abortion the first time and threatening her job if she didn't get an abortion the second time. While Chastain denied threatening her job, the county shelled out $35,000 to settle the suit.
Afterward, he won re-election only because his opponent, Don Reynolds, was among more than 200 candidates decertified just weeks before the 2012 primary. Even as a disqualified contender, Reynolds topped Chastain by more than 100 votes in the primary and, after getting on the November 2012 ballot as a petition candidate, fell just 500 votes short of Chastain in the general election.
Some supporters suggest the texting issue is between Chastain and his wife, but what a public official does in office is the public's business. Let's not forget that his last flirtatious foray left the county covering the cost of ferrying his mistress to a Charlotte abortion clinic, defending him in court and paying out a settlement. And, as news services around the country picked up that story, Laurens County was the subject of a number of embarrassing headlines and newscasts.
That earlier relationship started off as flirting between him and an employee but, as he put it five years ago, "one thing led to another." It's hard not to see the similarities, especially as the texts included an exchange about her interviewing for a job at the Laurens County Detention Center, which is under the sheriff's purview.
Laurens County residents deserve answers to the questions these latest allegations raise about the county's top cop. Perhaps voters would like to hear from Chastain before they speak in the June 14 primary when he again faces Reynolds.