COLUMBIA – Rick Buford calls himself “kind of a geek.”
Upon entering Buford's split-level home, guests find a baby-gate holding back a plethora of Playskool and plush toys belonging to Buford's daughters; Kiera, 5, and Delia, 8 months. An X-Box and a Wii sit near the big-screen television in the basement. A computer desk sits near the stairs, cluttered with papers. Another gate separates the basement from the rest of the house.
1209 Cunningham Road
PERSONAL: Age 39. He is married to Teisha Dalton-Buford. They have two daughters, Kiera, 5, and Delia, 6 months. He also has two sons, Zachary, 16, and Hayden, 14, with his former wife, Natalie Dykstra.
OCCUPATION: Senior network analyst for Carfax.
EDUCATION: Graduated from Jefferson City High School, 1989; studied nursing at Lincoln University for two years.
ON THE WEB: Buford's campaign Web site is bufordforcolumbia.com. He has a Twitter account, @bufordforcolumb. He also has a Facebook page.
"He's a pretty techie geek," Buford's wife, Teisha Dalton-Buford said. "He likes to build things. He likes to figure things out."
The Fourth Ward candidate for the Columbia City Council, who has made public safety a primary plank in his platform, also keeps 180 pounds of dogs in his house. Baca, a Rottweiler, and Rosy, a Bernese mountain dog, charge through the back door to greet him as he lets them in, then they sit at his feet while his thick fingers scratch behind their ears. They’re supposed to be guard dogs, but Buford said he’s trained them to be so sweet that they don’t even want to wake him in the morning.
Buford, a senior network administrator for Carfax, has come a long way in life. Although he messed up as a kid at times, he set himself right, kept himself employed and built himself a family. Now he says he’s ready to take a seat on the council , where he believes he can help navigate a series of difficult decisions while making essential services his top priority.
He laughs about his co-worker, mayoral candidate Paul Love, "copying" his decision to run for the council. (Never mind that Love became a candidate a week before Buford did.) Stepping outside the office, Buford and Love would discuss politics and other subjects.
"When I saw that Jerry wasn't going to re-run for his seat, he was going to run for mayor instead, that's when this kind of occurred to me,” Buford said. “When I made that decision, (Love) kind of decided 'Why not run for mayor?'"
A rough start
"I was a bad kid," Buford said. "My parents should have been sainted."
Born in Jefferson City in 1970, Buford's family soon moved to Holts Summit, where he lived until he was 8 years old. Ultimately, Buford would land in Jefferson City.
Although now a relatively quiet man, the 17-year-old Buford was an entirely different story.
A friend broke into and stole stuff from his girlfriend's house, Buford said, and took it to Buford's house. The two were caught when he was helping his friend move the stolen goods from his home, and Buford was charged with being an accessory to the burglary.
Buford’s mother, Pamela Buford, thinks her son is too hard on himself.
“He was not a bad kid,” Pamela Buford said. “He did some time in jail and decided maybe living with rules wasn't as bad as he originally thought as a 17-year-old. He went back to school, went on to college and basically turned his life around.”
Buford credits the adolescent misstep with shaping his adult life, as well.
"I decided that wasn't the course I wanted my life to take. I went back to school, back on the honor roll and have more or less been an upstanding citizen ever since," Buford said. "... Not even a speeding ticket."
Even before he was a teenager, Buford excelled with technology in the classroom.
"Honestly, it was fourth grade. My school in Jeff City, West School, got its first TRS-80. Me and another guy sat down and just went through the manual and just started doing stuff," Buford said. "It ended up where he and I were actually tutoring the other students."
Not many fourth-grade students decide to read a computer manual, but technology turned out to be one of Buford's passions.
After graduating from Jefferson City High School in 1989, though, Buford attended Lincoln University for two years and studied nursing instead of computer science.
"Unfortunately, I wasn't bright enough to actually realize that, ‘Hey, this is something that I should be doing because I really like doing it, and I'm pretty good at it,’" Buford said.
A working man
“You really don't want a whole list of all my jobs," Buford said. "My wife makes fun of me because she's from the East Coast and she's had like three (jobs) her whole life. I've had 20; been working since I was 14."
When he first came to Columbia, Buford worked for Medicredit, a collection and billing agency where he "did phone and computer stuff." From there, Buford moved on to Heilig-Meyers, a retail furniture store chain with a distribution office in Moberly, and decided he wanted to work with computers.
"I sort of had a side business building computers for people and charging them a few dollars and was doing reasonably well at that and couldn't get a computer job with (MU)," Buford said.
Buford finally landed a job at the MU library by applying as a temp worker. That led to a stint in medical records, where he did technical support and managed a database for transcriptionists.
“I got a reputation for being technically proficient," he said. From there, he made the leap to Carfax.
Buford puts his computer acumen to work at home, too. He built a Linux computer with educational games for Kiera.
Buford isn't all work and no play, though. He likes to play video games once in a while.
"I have successfully avoided ‘World of Warcraft.’ Period. Never had an account whatsoever," Buford said. "I have played ‘Eve,’ I've played ‘Star Wars.’ Currently looking at ‘Star Trek MMO.’ MMO stands for Massive Multiplayer Online. With a family it's a little more difficult. ‘Eve’ is a very fun game, but like if you don't have three to six hours to sit down and play it, you are not going to do it very well."
When Buford and his friends hang out, they like to go to the movies. He's seen “Avatar” twice since it hit theaters.
A family man
Buford married Natalie Dykstra when he was 22. They have two children: Zachary, 16, and Hayden, 14.
Buford and Dykstra are now divorced. The boys spend most of their time with their mother in Jefferson City, but Buford has custody every other weekend.
"I'm actually very concerned," Buford said, laughing. "The oldest boy, scarily enough, if you take a picture of him now and me at that age, he just looks just like me. The younger one acts just like me. I'm hoping we get a pass for a couple more years before the younger one gets older."
Buford met his current wife, Teisha Dalton-Buford, on a float trip down the Black River. Some mutual friends brought Teisha along.
"They brought her with them, and then they sold her to me," Buford said, grinning. "I bribed her with a blanket and a beer."
After a stint of traveling back and forth from Columbia and Kansas City and the birth of Kiera, Dalton-Buford decided their daughter needed a safer place to live and the family was finally together in Columbia.
"She came down to Columbia right after someone broke in through the back door while she was in the bedroom playing with the baby," Buford said.
Public safety has always been a large part of Buford's campaign.
"I think Rick is seeing me constantly locking doors and that kind of stuff and decided — on top of his general political nature — to run," Dalton-Buford said. "We're not always on the same page with our political views, but I want him to get in there and succeed."
In explaining his decision to run for the Fourth Ward seat, Buford compared Columbia to Kansas City. Every morning, he said, you could turn on the television and find out where the shooting happened, where the fire occurred.
"I'm really doing this largely because I want my daughters to grow up in a nice town," Buford said. "I think Columbia is a very, very nice place to live, and I'd like to keep it that way."
Eight months ago, Dalton-Buford gave birth to their second daughter, Delia.
Delia has Down syndrome, but Buford said it hasn’t been a crisis. Rather, they’re simply doing everything they can to set her up for success.
"She's an absolutely adorable baby," Dalton-Buford said. "She's only eight months old, so we haven't really hit the hard part. So far, we've just had tons of support."
An unconnected man
"I view not having a whole lot of political connections as both a negative and a positive," Buford said. "As a negative, I don't know anybody. I don't run with the movers and shakers. Nobody’s got my ear, and I don't have anyone else's ear. As a positive, I'm not carrying any of that baggage, either."
At several forums, Buford has said he is willing to make the tough but unpopular decisions.
"There are going to have to be some decisions made about essential services versus some of the niceties that make Columbia one of the nicer places to live," Buford said. "It doesn't mean we have to close down our parks, but it most certainly, to me, means that we put the parks on maintenance mode."
Buford likes to use Dublin Park down the street from his home as an example of poor decision-making.
"As I was talking to the people in that neighborhood, it was like nobody ever comes to (the park)," Buford said. "Nobody. They don't even go there. Eighty thousand dollars we spent on this park, and nobody even goes there."
Rob Call, Buford’s campaign treasurer, has been a friend of Buford’s for roughly 20 years. He said his friend — the down-to-earth, self-taught computer wiz — is the right man for the Fourth Ward.
“His wife jokes that we have argument dates,” Call said, referring to political arguments the two regularly have. “I guess he is putting his money where his mouth is. … (Columbia) is starting to get growing pains, and he wants to raise the issues that aren’t getting talked about enough.”
Here’s the list of public records used to write this story: Boone County Assessor’s database, Boone County Collector’s records and Case.net. These sources are reviewed for all candidates for public office.