Deciding not to fight ouster effort, James Tindall resigns from the Jackson County Legislature

04/10/2014 3:52 PM

04/10/2014 10:51 PM

James Tindall said Thursday he will resign his seat on the Jackson County Legislature June 30 rather than fight any attempt to oust him from office.

Collectively during his two stints on the county’s governing body, Tindall has represented the 2nd District for 21 years.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker had been prepared to take legal steps to have him removed because of a 1999 federal felony conviction.

Although Tindall was contemplating a court challenge, he said in his resignation letter that he could not afford the cost of a legal battle.

“I cannot in good conscience put my wife and family in such financial peril,” he said.

Had he been ousted, it would have been a first for the legislature. Never in its 41-year history has one of its members been forced out other than by losing an election.

This is the second time Tindall has stepped down. Tindall, the head pastor of the Metropolitan Spiritual Church of Christ, resigned in 1996, saying it was because of an order by church elders after 14 years on the legislature. But it was also about that time that federal investigators were putting together the case that sent him to prison for nearly three years for tax fraud.

Now nearing the end of his second term in his second go-around, Tindall filed last month to run for a third term. But early this week, he withdrew from the August primary ballot.

However, the move came a few days after Peters Baker informed Tindall that he was not eligible to serve due to a 2005 state law that says anyone convicted of a federal felony or misdemeanor is not qualified to be a candidate for public office in Missouri.

Aware that Tindall was in danger of losing his seat, some of his supporters in the African-American community met with Peters Baker this week to ask that he be allowed to finish out his term.

“I’m not faulting or accusing her of anything; she has to do what she has to do,” said the Rev. Wallace Hartsfield Sr. “But what is it that is so important that he has be put out of office now?”

Peters Baker also came under political pressure from those who felt that Tindall’s ouster might harm race relations. Tindall is the only African-American on the legislature.

“How many African-Americans have you seen put out of office on flimsy charges?” Hartsfield asked, referring to Tindall’s original tax conviction.

But the prosecutor said Thursday she had no choice in the matter.

“Our office conducted an internal evaluation of Missouri law and consulted the Missouri attorney general’s office and an opinion from outside counsel,” she said in a prepared statement. “We all came to the same conclusion: The law in the state of Missouri is clear that a felon may not hold elected office.

“My job is to uphold the law aside from political pressure, past support or friendship. Today, that is exactly what my office has done.”

Tindall’s criminal record was no secret when he won election in 2006 and 2010.

Some questioned his ability to run or serve in office, but no formal complaints were made. Nor did Peters Baker or her two immediate predecessors take any action to block his candidacy or push him from office.

County Executive Mike Sanders was prosecutor when Tindall ran in 2006, and James Kanatzar, now a judge, was prosecutor when he ran again in 2010.

Officials in Peters Baker’s office blamed the lack of action on legal uncertainties that were cleared up only in the past couple of years.

That legal cloud began to develop in 2006. A legal challenge to then-Legislator Henry Rizzo’s re-election bid that year was thrown out when a judge ruled unconstitutional a law that barred those guilty of federal felonies or misdemeanors from running for office in Missouri. Rizzo has been convicted of a federal misdemeanor, but the law on which the challenge was based had technical flaws that made it unenforceable.

Later it was discovered that similar language barring federal felons from running for office was in yet another statute, and that one didn’t have the same flaws and remained in force.

But that law only addressed the qualifications for candidacy. It did not say whether a federal felon, once elected, could hold office. The cloud lifted after a 2012 Missouri Supreme Court decision. It upheld a move by the Cass County prosecutor to remove the county’s presiding commissioner because he was not qualified to be a candidate when he ran and won election.

Like Tindall, that official had been guilty of a felony, although that was a state charge.

The prosecutor’s office began taking another look into the matter last month after several voters filed a petition stating that, because of his felony conviction, Tindall did not meet the qualifications to be a candidate. One of his Democratic primary challengers filed a lawsuit stating the same.

Last year, Tindall requested a presidential pardon that, if granted, might have made the matter moot. But none has been announced.

The legislature will choose someone to finish out the eight months left of Tindall’s term from a list of three nominees submitted by the Jackson County Democratic Committee.

His colleagues said they will miss Tindall and his leadership on the judicial and anti-drug tax committees.

Longtime Legislator Fred Arbanas called him a “stand-up guy.”

People interested in serving will put forth their names, and the committee will vote and make recommendations. Committee chairman Tom Wyrsch said the process could take a couple of weeks, which would put it past next Tuesday’s filing deadline for the August primary.

He expects some of those prospective nominees will file their papers by the deadline. If so, they’ll join the two candidates who had filed to oppose Tindall in the Democratic primary by the original March 25 filing deadline.

The filing window was reopened when Tindall withdrew from the ballot. So far there is no Republican opposition.

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