How important is a good credit score for local elected officials?

·3 min read

May 10—The Lucas County Democratic Party will tackle a thorny issue Monday night when it finalizes its slate of 2021 endorsements: whether your credit score should matter when you're running for local office.

Toledo Board of Education member Polly Taylor-Gerken called attention to the issue by refusing to go along with new requirements for party endorsements that include submitting a credit score, criminal background check, and affidavit proving that candidates don't owe any back taxes to the county.

Ms. Taylor-Gerken, a former school psychologist seeking a third term on the school board, said she doesn't agree with the credit score requirement, which she believes is exclusionary and not relevant for all offices.

The issue isn't her actual credit score, which she said is "excellent."

"It's not about me, it's about the process," she said. "And it just gives me pause when I think about the Democratic principles of being inclusive and open, and so I just couldn't make myself do it."

She said credit scores aren't public and she's not comfortable sharing hers with party members who aren't under any obligation to keep them confidential. She also said scores shouldn't matter for candidates who aren't seeking elected row offices such as county treasurer and auditor.

"I'm a good board member and my credit score is irrelevant," she said.

Credit worthiness arose as a major issue for Democrats in 2018. County treasurer Lindsay Webb was set to take office when it was revealed her credit score was too low to qualify for the bond needed to serve in the post. She blamed her sub-600 score at the time on student loans, mortgage and credit card debt.

She was eventually able to qualify for a more expensive bond and released a credit report later that year showing her score had improved from when she first took office. She's since won re-election twice.

Lucas County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Ashford — whom the party passed over for the treasurer appointment in 2018 in favor of Ms. Webb — said credit scores are ultimately an indicator of how quickly candidates can learn about many of the issues they'll be overseeing in office.

Incorporating credit scores into the screening process for endorsements will "bring you a different individual with a different financial mindset," said Mr. Ashford, who's also the county recorder. "Sixty percent of your time as an elected official is spent understanding the finances of the city or the school board, so they have the ability to learn a lot faster than somebody who has a credit score of 475."

Mr. Ashford said more thorough screening may have also helped unearth red flags with the four Toledo City Council members, all Democrats, indicted last year in a federal bribery scheme. Councilmen Yvonne Harper, Gary Johnson, Tyrone Riley, and Larry Sykes all face charges.

Republicans were also taken by surprise last year when it came out that city council candidate Tony Dia had served time in prison as a juvenile for killing another teen in what he said was an act of self-defense.

"People with more of a decent credit score who have more of a financial foundation are less likely to take a $500 bribe and eat dinner with a carrot cake to go," Mr. Ashford said, a nod to Mr. Riley, who was allegedly bribed with money and gifts, including the carrot cake.

The Lucas County Republican Party doesn't ask applicants seeking its endorsement for their credit scores, chairman Chris Joseph said.

Mr. Ashford said the two dozen or so other candidates seeking endorsements for mayor and city council all submitted the required paperwork to the screening committee, which makes a recommendation to the party's executive committee that it will discuss Monday.

Ms. Taylor-Gerken said the screening committee rejected her application because she didn't supply all the information it asked for, but she's hoping the executive committee overlooks that at its meeting.

School board members Chris Varwig and Bob Vasquez each submitted complete applications for endorsements in their re-elections, party officials said.

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