April 25, 2019 10:16:00 AM
P.T. Barnum famously said there's no such thing as bad publicity, but these days you aren't likely to find many people who ascribe to that theory.
Media attention is sometimes welcomed. Media scrutiny never is.
These days, officials react to negative news about themselves by blaming the messenger. The idea: Cooperate as little as possible, avoid, delay, obfuscate.
There are exceptions here and there.
One of those exceptions emerged recently when The Dispatch learned through search of records in the chancery clerk's office that city of Columbus project manager Jabari Edwards and his affiliated companies had amassed $688,000 in federal tax liens since 2017.
Because Edwards, through his company J5 GBL, handles taxpayer-funded projects for the city, the tax liens were a matter of public interest and on that basis, The Dispatch pursued the story.
(Some have suggested The Dispatch targeted Edwards and his companies with this story. We looked into other major city service providers as well. Of the ones we inspected some had old liens that had been relieved. We felt the liens related to Edwards and his companies were relevant due to the fact that there appeared to be a pattern of accruing liens and because his companies are locally based.)
Experience with these kinds of stories has taught us to be prepared to receive little cooperation. In previous cases, the stonewalling begins immediately. If there is any response at all, it is generally through a "statement" consisting of a few sentences of denial and a claim of persecution.
Rarely are any details provided by the subjects of these type stories.
That is not what we encountered in this case.
Edwards and other company leadership were cooperative, talking on the phone many times and meeting with Dispatch reporters not once but twice to answer questions and provide information and access to records that helped paint a clear picture of the situation.
Through that cooperation, we learned the back story of the tax liens. We also learned of some IRS tax lien releases that were not available through chancery court digital records.
Edwards and his team provided a narrative of how those liens built up. They also explained they inherited some of the tax problems from a company they purchased in 2017. Those liens are currently in litigation by Edwards, as company vice president Antwann Richardson said those debts were not fully disclosed at the time Edwards purchased the company.
As the story reported, falling arrears in taxes is not uncommon among contractors and project managers, whose income often arrives sporadically, even as bills and taxes do not.
Ultimately, the story provided a well-sourced and documented account of Edwards' tax difficulties. Edwards' cooperation aided, rather than impeded, that effort.
Readers can draw their own conclusions, of course, but they are aided by the information provided through that cooperation.
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