Payson mayoral candidate Bob Edwards says a packet of materials about him that is anonymously circulating in Payson has a major flaw -- it fails to include the fact that allegations made against him when he was nominated to lead a government agency in Michigan were proved unfounded.
Edwards, who called the packet an example of "disgusting" politics, told the Roundup that he did not know the source of the materials, but didn't think his two opponents were involved. Both opponents, Barbara Brewer and Jon Barber, told the Roundup they had nothing to do with the packet, which the Roundup received earlier this week.
Although the local source of the packet has not been identified, Detroit Free Press newspaper reporter Dawson Bell told the Roundup that a private investigator in Michigan called him regarding old newspaper articles about Edwards.
The private investigator, identified as Tim Vessel, did not return phone calls to the Roundup.
One of those articles is a primary element of the packet. Written by Bell, it appeared in the Free Press on March 7, 1991, shortly after Edwards had been nominated by then Michigan Gov. John Engler to head the Michigan Employment Security Commission (MESC), the state's unemployment office.
Bell reported that an anonymous former employee of Edwards accused him of not paying unemployment taxes.
After the article was published, Edwards insisted on a full investigation and a second Free Press article on April 30 by Robert Musial -- an article which was not included in the packet -- reported Edwards had been cleared of all charges.
"MESC Chairman Harold Roy said the investigation, which included an audit by the agency, cleared Edwards of the charges," Musial wrote.
"‘Mr. Edwards ran a clean ship ... there was nothing abnormal whatsoever. The allegations did not prove valid,' Roy said."
Edwards, who served several terms in the Michigan state legislature before being picked for the MESC post, said it would have been difficult for the investigator to miss the article that cleared him.
"When you go to the Free Press Web site and search, it's done by year, and this was the next article (after the one containing the allegations)," he said. "It's just too easy to see. It jumps right out at you."
Musial no longer works for the Free Press. But Bell, who still does, said the private investigator called him about a week ago.
"It sounded like whoever Edwards was running against was trying to dig dirt," he said. "I just assumed he worked for the other side, but he didn't tell me."
Bell also explained why he wrote the original story.
"It struck us as newsworthy that a guy who was going to run the unemployment agency had been accused of cheating on paying his unemployment taxes," he said.
But Bell also verified that Edwards had been cleared of all charges, and searched the Free Press archives for subsequent articles.
"After that little flurry of attention, that story just kind of went away," he said. "There were no scandals at MESC while he was there."
In fact, Bell agreed with Edwards' claim that during his tenure as head of MESC he turned a dysfunctional agency around.
"Yes, there is probably some truth to that," he said.
Dan Pero, who was chief of staff during Engler's first term as governor, also dismissed the charges.
"If the charges had been true, he never would have been hired," Pero said. "We wouldn't have brought someone into an administration if he had done what was alleged.
"All of our major appointments went through state police checks into their backgrounds, and through those checks there were some people being considered for positions in the administration who didn't get them. We never had an issue with people who became a part of our administration being ethically challenged, and we were very proud of that."
The packet also includes a list of court actions in which Edwards was involved, including a 1975 case in which the investigator noted, "There was a bench warrant issued against F. Robert Edwards."
But a check of Genesee County, Mich. court records indicates that case -- either a child support or alimony domestic case -- involved a Floyd Edwards, not F. Robert Edwards. While Edwards' first name is Floyd, all of the court cases in which Edwards was involved contained the name "F. Robert Edwards" or, in one case, "Floyd Robert Edwards."
While the Genesee County Friend of the Court office seals divorce records and proceedings, the Roundup did find that a Floyd Lee Edwards married Brenda Lynn Dorman (the plaintiff in the case) in 1967, at which time Edwards was still married to his first wife.
"I've never been arrested in my life," Edwards said.
The other court cases listed in the packet involved Edwards' two divorces or were related to his business. Before he got into politics, Edwards owned a company that bought fix-up homes and turned them into rental properties.
"If they want to find property things, they can probably find 200 of them," he said. "We were in court constantly."
Edwards says the fact that somebody in Payson would hire an investigator and possibly alter the findings is dishonest.
"To decide what you want to find and then go try to find it is the wrong way to approach anything," he said. "These kinds of people don't belong in politics and government.
"If they want to know something about me, come and ask," he said. "I don't have any secrets."
In fact, Edwards said he has never encountered anything like this during his many political campaigns in Michigan.
"I was in some pretty rough campaigns, but it was always issues," he said. "I have no problem battling on issues; I think the public needs to know. But this is all nonsense."
But Pero, who eventually left Engler's staff to run Lamar Alexander's presidential campaign, said he has encountered the tactic on more than one occasion.
"What he's being subjected to isn't all that unusual in politics today," he said. "If there's some big money involved, they'll hire PIs to do what they call ‘opposition research.'
"One wouldn't think it would happen in a town the size of Payson, but when there's a lot at stake, people will do what they need to do to run a campaign that will be very personal and negative -- and not necessarily very truthful. They'll throw everything at the wall hoping it will stick.
"That kind of stuff goes on in this business."
Both Edwards' opponents, Barbara Brewer and Jon Barber, said their campaigns had nothing to do with hiring the private investigator.
"I got plenty to worry about without worrying about somebody else," Barber said. "That's not the way I'm running things."
Edwards was emphatic in his belief that somebody other than the candidates initiated the investigation.
"I've had quite a few meetings with Jon Barber, and I think he's nothing but a quality guy," he said. "From everything I hear about Barbara she's a quality person.
"I think this is coming from some other source."