Candidate background checks: Part 1: Bart Rhoades
The Tulsa World today, on page A-14, presented a summary of information turned up during background checks of the candidates for Tulsa city offices.
Some of the information had been reported previously -- Eric Gomez serving alcohol to a minor in 1993 and being arrested for public intoxication in 1997; Rick Westcott's tax liens; Paul Tay and his inflatable genitalia; Chris Trail's long list of personal, financial, and legal troubles.
There was some new info, too, in the World's story, but there were also many other cases that the World's story failed to address. (It's easy to miss court cases if you don't think to look for name variations. More about that in a separate entry.) In fact, there's so much additional information that I'm not going to try to cover it all in one entry. So here's part 1.
Bart Rhoades, the challenger in District 2, is currently in bankruptcy (09-11516-R, filed on May 21, 2009).
But the World's story missed some significant court cases involving Rhoades.
My search of the Northern District of Oklahoma Bankruptcy court database revealed two additional bankruptcies -- a Chapter 13 bankruptcy (89-03839-W) filed on December 14, 1989, and a Chapter 7 bankruptcy (90-03200-W) filed on October 22, 1990.
Oddly, the filing in Rhoades' current bankruptcy case shows more assets than liabilities. He has a home (his residence as listed on his candidate filing) valued in the filing at $140,000, with $49,000 listed as the "amount of secured claim." (If I understand it correctly, this is what he owes on the mortgage. He has a firefighter's pension of $14,000 per year; a note on p. 15 says "Debtor owes his ex spouse 50% of his Firefighter pension." He lists $29,442.27 in unsecured claims, including $13,334 in student loans, about $9,500 in credit card debt, $976.11 in medical bills, $2,735.33 related to a lawsuit brought by Gary D. Underwood, and $2,374.63 owed to "paterson realtors." (That amount appears to be the result of this small claims case that Patterson Realtors brought against him in 2007.) His occupation is listed as greenskeeper for "jsj, inc." with an address corresponding to the LaFortune Park golf course.
According to District Court documents available online, Rhoades did not appear for the Patterson lawsuit. A garnishment summons was issued, but according to the bankruptcy filing, he didn't make enough money to have his salary garnished. A case involving Capital One also involved a garnishment summons to the Tulsa County Clerk's office, returned for insufficient earnings. And yet another case, brought by Gary D. Underwood, resulted in a garnishment order to Midfirst Bank. The three lawsuits were brought in 2008, 2007, and 2008 respectively. A 2005 breach of contract suit brought against Rhoades by OU in Cleveland County District Court was settled later the same year.
Rhoades also didn't show up earlier this year when he was sued, along with other defendants, in a case brought in 2007 by Connie K. Harl. Rhoades was charged with violating the Residential Property Condition Disclosure Act. The default judgment against Rhoades was vacated as a result of his bankruptcy.
The online information for that case is incomplete, and if the amount of the judgment was large enough, it may explain why Rhoades filed for bankruptcy instead of selling his house and paying off the debts that he listed.
Rhoades is backed in his campaign by the Firefighters' Union. The union is targeting Rick Westcott because he wanted time to take a closer look at Bill Martinson's budget proposal, which arose from Martinson's analysis of the growth of public safety's share of the city's budget. According to Martinson's analysis, police and fire departments now consume all of the revenue generated by the 2% general fund sales tax. Westcott has also been outspoken about investigating possibly fraudulent claims of EMT and paramedic certifications -- certifications that qualify a firefighter for extra pay. Westcott has also had a target on his back for opposing several of Mayor Kathy Taylor's initiatives and board appointments.
There's an echo here of 2008, when the local establishment recruited an opponent for Jack Henderson to punish him for his effective opposition to the 2007 county river tax increase. His opponent, Emanuel Lewis, had been sued in small claims court for an unpaid medical bill, failed to show up on his court date, and had his wages garnished to pay the bill. From my March 12, 2008, column:
The Lewises failed to appear in court date on Jan. 24, and Judge Charles Hogshead ordered them to pay $868.74 to Tulsa Regional Medical Center, plus attorneys' fees and interest. On Feb. 15, a garnishment affidavit was served on Great Plains Mortgage, Lewis's employer.
Creditors generally go to great lengths to settle unpaid bills before they involve the courts. That someone seeking public office would let an unpaid bill go to court, then fail to appear in court, then fail to pay the judgment, casts serious doubt on the candidate's judgment and personal responsibility.
Likewise, in this year's District 5 race, Bill Martinson, the City Council's number-cruncher, has been targeted for defeat, apparently by forces that would prefer not to have a grown-up on the City Council. Their champion in this race, Chris Trail, moved into the district from outside the city limits on the other side of town just in time (or possibly not) to file for the office, and has a string of legal problems, which the World reported early in the campaign: an arrest on food code violations, a restraining order filed by his wife, tax liens, and a bogus check charge. Nevertheless, Trail has hired a big-time political consultant, Karl Ahlgren, has put out some very professional-looking campaign materials, and had a fundraiser hosted by a Dollar Thrifty executive. When he first sent me a Facebook friends request back in July, his list of about 60 friends included several close associates of Mayor Kathy Taylor.
There seems to be a pattern of financially troubled individuals being recruited to challenge councilors who show too much intelligence and independence.
Westcott has had some financial troubles of his own. He wound up with more taxes than he could afford to pay as the result of his 1998 divorce, and so he initiated a voluntary payment plan with the IRS and the Oklahoma Tax Commission. His state tax debt has been paid in full; he is still paying down his federal debt.
Westcott did the responsible thing and found a way to pay his bills, with interest. Bart Rhoades's three bankruptcies give a different impression.
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