March 14, 2014

Pressure builds on Wyandotte County official Tarence Maddox after calls to resign

The 31-year-old Maddox became the first Unified Government commissioner to receive an official rebuke in the form of two public censures and a call for his resignation. But some still believe in both his desire and power to do good.

Tarence Maddox is that rare Wyandotte County official whose name is known outside the Dotte, but for all the wrong reasons.

First, Maddox was caught on camera last summer throwing a fit at Legoland that led to his arrest and later conviction for disorderly conduct.

Next came the police dashcam video of Maddox, all 6 foot and 285 pounds of him, threatening to sic “the black mafia” on a driver he suspected of following him, telling the cops later that “I could’ve had somebody come out and pop him.”

Then last week came a

blistering report

from the Unified Government legislative auditor, which over six pages, single spaced, laid out a long list of alleged ethical violations, including several instances where he sought special treatment as an elected official.

Thus the 31-year-old Maddox became the first UG commissioner to receive an official rebuke in the form of two public censures and a call for his resignation.

A week later he still had not resigned, and he was coy when asked about his intentions.

“Wait and see,” he told The Star with a smile.

However, an investigation now under way by the district attorney’s office could lead to ouster proceedings or worse. The auditor’s report alleges that “one or more crimes may have been committed,” without specifying what they might be.

Auditor Tom Wiss declined comment, but according to a source with the UG, the report piqued the interest of the FBI and Kansas Bureau of Investigation. But an FBI spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny whether the agency is investigating.

Maddox denies he has done anything illegal or unethical and on Thursday during brief remarks before the UG Ethics Commission offered an apology to voters –— not for his behavior, but to anyone who might have been offended by it.

In an interview afterward, Maddox said the auditor’s report provides a false impression of him.

“When I operate, I always operate in integrity,” he said.

Stark contrast

Clearly, the Tarence Maddox portrayed in the auditor’s report is a stark contrast to the image Maddox presented when he ran for office in 2011 and won the 4th District seat by 18 votes.

Respected leaders in the African-American community endorsed him for what seemed like a compelling narrative.

Here was a young black man who was focused, he said, on giving back to the community he grew up in — the poor, crime-ridden north side neighborhoods where life is cut short too often by violence.

“Out of probably 10 of my homeboys,” Maddox once said, “eight of us didn’t make it. Two of them are in jail on 20-year sentences. Six of them are dead.”

Maddox has limited his comments to the media since his censure, but he said his resume and prevous public comments speak for themselves.

He founded a youth mentoring program at the Kansas City, Kan., middle school where he was at the time a special education paraprofessional and football coach.

A 2001 graduate of F.L. Schlagle High School, Maddox went on to attend Alabama State University in Montgomery for a time. Upon returning to KCK, he wore a suit and tie while giving motivational speeches to young people.

“I grew up as a troubled teen,” he would say and go on to tell the story of how he, a former gangbanger, turned his life around.

The pivotal moment came one day when he was ordered by a senior gang member to shoot someone who owed money for drugs. In a video he uploaded to YouTube last spring, Maddox recounts how refused to take the gun, turned spiritual and, like the apostle Paul, decided to devote his life to a higher purpose.

“A light switched on in my head and said, ‘You’ve got to turn positive,’ 

” he said in the speech to community college students. “ ‘People are struggling, people are dying and we need someone to come to the forefront to lead.’ 

Some still believe in both his desire and power to do good.

“Maddox is a young black male who has brought respect, knowledge and hope to the black community,” said Martha Smith, a leader of the London Heights Neigborhood Association.

Sure he’s acted immature at times, but who at that age hasn’t, she said, going on to praise his work on behalf of young people.

Maddox started a program called Books Not BAARS several years ago when he worked at Northwest Middle School (he was not hired back this school year, a district official said). It focused partly on step dancing.

The idea behind his Project YEP (Youth Engaged in Positivity) was to give inner-city kids something fun and safe to do on the weekends. To that end, Maddox sponsored monthly youth nights at the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center in 2011 and 2012, with dancing, basketball and modeling shows.

Maddox’s efforts still impress Virginia Sewing, who with her late husband, Don, were civil rights pioneers in the 1960s when they moved from KCK to an all-white neighborhood in Johnson County.

“He has taken kids from the streets who are hoodlums and turned them into upstanding citizens,” she said.

A paradox

Yet a couple of influential figures who backed Maddox in 2011 now refuse to say what they think of him. Among them are parks board member and neighborhood leader Beatrice Lee and former KCK councilman Chester Owens Jr.

“I have no comment whatsoever,” Owens said.

Still others say it’s hard to square the Tarence Maddox now at risk of being kicked out of office with the positive thinker who fashioned himself as “the children’s commissioner.”

“He’s a paradox,” said one of his fellow commissioners on the board that oversees the combined government of Wyandotte County and KCK.

Neither Mayor Mark Holland nor other members of the UG board have made public statements for or against Maddox since Wiss asked Maddox to resign by April 1. They say they are uncomfortable criticizing a fellow commissioner publicly.

But privately, a few who talked with The Star called his troubles an unwelcome distraction that sheds a negative light on a Unified Government that has seen much success and few scandals since the county and city governments merged in 1997.

“It makes all of us commissioners look bad when you have somebody like that who has yet to take any blame whatsoever,” one said.

For example, Maddox refused at Thursday’s ethics commission meeting to acknowledge he’d done anything wrong when he allegedly threatened a clerk, on camera, at a convenience store in January.

In that incident, Maddox was angry about having been overcharged for a gasoline purchase interrupted by a power outage. After informing the clerk that he was a commissioner, he said he would report the business for code violations if his money was not returned.

Wiss said it was part of a pattern of behavior where Maddox repeatedly abused his office.

Some alleged ethics violations were minor, such as having personalized license tags on one or more of his cars that stated “Cmsr 4” or something similar. That’s against policy because it might be perceived he was on official business even when he wasn’t.

More serious were allegations that Maddox tried to use his position to have a speeding ticket he received “fixed” and attempted to avoid paying a tow charge by threatening to negatively affect the company’s tow contract with the UG.

Because no one expects him to resign and because the district attorney is only beginning an investigation that could lead to ouster proceedings, chances are the controversy could swirl right up until next year’s election.

The wait doesn’t sit well with some of Maddox’s nearly 20,000 constituents. Talk of a possible recall petition came up when the Turtle Hill neighborhood association met this week.

“The general consensus,” association president Scott Murray said, “was we were just thoroughly embarrassed and wondering where do we go from here and how do we get a better leader in office.”

But longtime 4th District resident Maria Kline thinks Maddox is a good leader and nothing he is accused of merits removing one of only two black members on a 10-member commission that already has one vacancy.

“I’ve known Maddox since he was a young boy and he would see me come into the barbershop talking about how we need leadership in the community,” she said. “And he’s one of them that gets it.”

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