By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
The personal bankruptcies of Republican sheriff candidate Ray Cross first emerged as a campaign issue during the primaries. How, detractors asked, could a man administer the sheriff’s department $2.6-million budget when he couldn’t manage his own finances?
The criticisms culminated in dramatic revelations at local political debates, and the campaign for incumbent Sheriff Patrick Cannon ran full-page ads in this newspaper depicting copies of the candidate’s Chapter 13 and 7 filings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Chattanooga.
The tactic didn’t seem to work for Cannon, who lost to Cross rather soundly in the runoff, but at Thursday night’s West Brow debate, Democratic candidate Philip Street tried a different line of attack: asking what his opponents’ debts were for.
Cross maintained he ran into trouble as a result of overwhelming medical bills for his family. At the Oct. 11 debate he was more specific, even referencing his daughter’s ovaries. “The same thing could happen to anyone in this room,” he said, as in various wordings he’s asserted throughout.
But Street said he’d heard enough of that. “I sat through the other debates and listened to this,” he said. “The information that’s at the federal courthouse does not match what my opponent says.”
Street invited the audience to go to the courthouse in Chattanooga and examine the papers. In fact, bankruptcy filings like other federal public records are available online through the PACER (public access to court electronic records) systems, and since the matter had been brought up the Sentinel had a peek.
What emerged was that though some of the Crosses’ debts as listed on their Chapter 13 filing could conceivably have been generated by medical bills – some of the creditors named are companies that buy up bad credit card debt, for instance – only a couple were readily identifiable as health care-related.
Those include a bill from a doctor for $395.85 and one from a surgery group for $91.04.
The debts from less identifiable sources, such as collection agencies as mentioned above, include $1,560, $1,340.69, 277.26 and $337.68.
Then there are two car loans for $18,828 and $10,434, and two home mortgages totaling a little over $100,000, listed as transferred between two creditors, Wells Fargo and Washington Mutual.
But the debts that may have caught Street’s eye are manifestly non–medical, such as $1,091.75 to a furniture company and $13,426.79 to Harley-Davidson Credit.
The Crosses’ Chapter 13 was filed in May 2004 with a total debt listed at $252,071.62. The Chapter 13, which is debt consolidation bankruptcy, affording protection from collection action provided payments are made, was terminated in early 2011 with a notation the debtors were in default of payments.
The case was then converted to Chapter 7, or liquidation bankruptcy, in April 2011. Surrender notices after that point appear for the cars, the house was listed as exempt from liquidation – and the Sentinel noticed no further mention of the Harley.