By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – While Ward 1 Republican candidate for Tupelo City Council Daniel Owens has “successful business owner” on his campaign literature, he doesn’t mention his personal and business bankruptcies dating back four years.
Facing incumbent Markel Whittington in the Republican primary election in May 7, Owens said he hopes voters won’t put too much emphasis on his past financial troubles.
Owens, 35, a firefighter with the Tupelo Fire Department, says he now owns Jump Tupelo, the children’s entertainment business on McCullough Boulevard. While he may operate and run the business in practice, he doesn’t technically own it.
The business is registered through the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office under the name of Owens’ father-in-law, Dr. William Kahlstorf, a Tupelo gynecologist.
However, the only business that Owens has owned in Mississippi dates to an unsuccessful venture called Adams Custom Homes Inc. Opened as a business in May 2006, the home-building business closed related to the business and personal bankruptcies filed in 2009 Owens and his wife, Ashley.
Owens blames the housing bubble that popped and the real estate downtown during that period for his financial misfortunes. Large and small businesses throughout the nation went under during the same period that Owens’ business failed.
When the Owenses filed for bankruptcy they listed owing up to 49 creditors and having more than $1 million and less than $10 million in debts. They listed more than $500,000 and less than $1 million in assets.
As the bankruptcy proceedings went through the courts, he and his wife had to move out of their Pinecrest Drive house in Tupelo. With the house in foreclosure, neighbors complained about the tall grass, which was reported by city residential code enforcement officers three times.
“It was the worst year of my life,” Owens said recently discussing his financial problems.
His bankruptcy was finalized on July 29, 2010, in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Aberdeen.
Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, said Owens isn’t the first political candidate with financial difficulties and won’t be the last. As for how bankruptcies can impact an election, Wiseman said it depends on context.
“That he took responsibility for it and it’s behind him, I don’t think it’s going to haunt him too much,” Wiseman said. “The public certainly understands the real estate market during that time.”
Focused on the present, Owens said he has tried to put the financial troubles of his previous business behind him. While not uncommon in the business world, he acknowledges that it may raise a few eyebrows with his city council candidacy.
“I’m not the only businessman who ever filed for bankruptcy,” he said. “But I’m probably the only candidate.”
A review of U.S. Bankruptcy Court records showed no other candidates for public office in Tupelo had bankruptcy records in Mississippi.
Owens said he learned a lot about the financial downturn related to home building but doesn’t plan to use his insights to build houses again.
“I probably will not be back in the real estate business,” he said.