COLUMBIA — Paul Love carries a line graph with him to interviews and campaign events. It’s from a presentation by City Manager Bill Watkins at a 2009 City Council retreat, and it shows Columbia’s general fund revenue lagging behind spending by $5 million.
Love had the graph enlarged and mounted on foam board. He uses it as a visual aid to explain why people need to reel in their expectations of city government.
100 Sondra Ave.
PERSONAL: Age 39. He is single.
OCCUPATION: Network analyst for Carfax.
EDUCATION: Attended MU off and on from 1988 to 1998.
RELEVANT BACKGROUND: Has worked for CarFax, IBM, MOREnet and Datastorm. He served 10 years in the National Guard. He is a member of the Columbia Jaycees and has raised money for the Special Olympics.
ON THE WEB: Love's Web site is love4mayor.org. He also has a twitter account.
"I have to admit, I'm not the chipper, cheerful candidate a lot of them are," he says.
Love wants to be the next mayor of Columbia. His is one of six names on the April 6 ballot. For the first time in 15 years, Darwin Hindman isn’t running, and for the first time since the 1980s, the city's budget is less than the year before.
"We're in a remarkably bad financial situation," Love says. "Whoever gets elected is going to have to make some tough choices."
Love works as a network administrator at CarFax, which makes automobile records available online. He says the company, which started in Columbia and employs more than 150 people here, is the kind of local business city government should work to attract.
"I think the high-tech jobs are a good fit for Columbia," he says. "We have a pretty good pool of technical people, which is important for a company that's trying to relocate — to make sure they have people there they could possibly hire."
Love says he is uniquely qualified to be an ambassador to those companies.
"I think if you're interested in bringing those kind of businesses to town, maybe having a mayor who's got a background in that industry might be a plus," he says.
An affinity for technology
Love grew up on a farm outside Paris, Mo. His family lacked a computer when he was growing up, so he wasn’t familiar with them until high school.
"He was an incredibly avid reader," says Deanna Matthies, Love's younger sister. She and her family live in Akron, Ohio, where she works for the investment firm Charles Schwabb.
"He still reads like a maniac," she says. "He loves history books, action books. It really didn't matter. We lived in a small town; I bet he knocked out three-quarters of the library."
Love says computers just made sense to him. "It's easy to understand, at least for me. It's fairly comfortable for me, and I enjoy it. It isn't something I break my brain on every day."
Love's affinity for computers stretches beyond work. He spends a lot of free time immersed in multiplayer online games such as "World of Warcraft" and "Eve."
"The cool thing about online games is that you meet people from all over the world,” he says, “and you see them for an hour or two at a time a couple of times a week."
He's been to a couple of conventions and says he enjoys meeting people he's gotten to know online. "I'm actually considering going to Reykjavik, Iceland, for the 'Eve' convention this next year," he says. "It depends on if I get elected mayor or not."
Love says he moved to Columbia as a student in 1988. He didn’t graduate but says he took classes all the way up to 1998. He joined the National Guard to help pay for school and was based out of Mexico, Mo. He served for 10 years and was deployed locally during the 1993 flood.
In 1994 he took a job with Datastorm Technologies, a Columbia software publisher, then went to work at MOREnet, a company affiliated with MU that provides Internet access and technical support to public schools and institutions. Although he worked at MOREnet only for a couple of years, the experience continues to cause problems.
Threats and allegations
According to court documents, supervisors called Love into a meeting at MOREnet in the fall of 1999. They told Love of a complaint that he had threatened to "blow up the workplace and shoot his co-workers." To this day, Love maintains he made no such threat.
Love says his MOREnet superiors told him that if he resigned and agreed to stay off MOREnet property, the company would not include the allegations in his employment records. Love resigned.
Two years later, a third-party employment screening company contacted MOREnet on behalf of American Airlines. Love was working for IBM, which had a contract with the airline. Court documents show MOREnet disclosed the threats, unexcused absences from work and “misappropriated materials.” It also alleged he forged signatures.
“I’m not sure where that came from,” Love says. “They had statements from all these co-workers that Paul was dangerous. The problem was that I actually got along really well with all of my co-workers.”
Love lost his job at IBM and sued MU, MOREnet Executive Director Bill Mitchell and the employment screening company. Love alleged that BTi Employment Screening Services had failed to investigate the veracity of the allegations after he filed a complaint. That, he said, would be a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Love is adamant he threatened no one but is unsure whether something he said was misconstrued.
"I'll be quite honest, I thought at the time, no. I couldn't think of anything, but you never know," he says. "I'll admit I had a supervisor I didn't get along with at the time."
But did he say it? Love points to court documents. “What I can tell you is that, going through the discovery process, they were never able to produce a single statement.”
Love agreed to settle the suit. In return, MU agreed not to disclose the allegations in employment screenings. Although he later petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case on appeal, the court didn't take it up.
In September 2009, Love asked for five minutes to address the City Council. Love told the council that MU and Columbia police officers visited his home “in the dark of night” to deliver a trespass warning on behalf of MU.
Love said MU Police, when contacted, said they did not know what law he had violated. He believed the trespass warning was in response to fliers he posted at MU accusing it of committing a terrorist act by falsely reporting a bomb threat — a reference to MOREnet’s allegations.
When the Missourian in January asked Love to come to the newspaper and have his photo taken, he asked MU for permission. His understanding is that he's allowed on campus as long as he doesn’t post fliers or make accusations against MU.
“They're not concerned with me being on campus; they're concerned with my right to exercise the First Amendment," he says.
Bill Mitchell, now retired from MOREnet, declined to comment for this article, as did representatives of MOREnet. Attorney Phil Hoskins, who served as general counsel for MU in the suit, also declined to talk but says there is no open legal action between Love and MU.
Steve Byergo has been friends with Love since the early 1990s when they worked at Sam's Club in Columbia. They were roommates for a couple of years and later worked at Datastorm. Byergo doesn't think Love would ever threaten co-workers.
"If you know Paul, you know there's not the slightest chance in the world that he would do anything like that," Byergo says. "My impression of the whole thing was that he was joking around with friends, and someone trickled it upstream."
Ryan Schultz has known Love since 1996 and works with him at CarFax. "It sounds like, from what I gather, something he said was misinterpreted or blown out of proportion and put on his public record, then later became public.”
Matthies fights tears when asked how it affected her brother. "To say he was floored, shocked, surprised, hurt I think was the understatement of the century.”
"I don't know everything in this world, but I think the way it was handled ... the whole thing was strange to me," she says. "I think it's a shame that it damaged his career. It's a shame that people can say things and destroy your life, and there's just not a lot you can do about it."
Matthies says the way Love handled the incident says a lot about him. "He studied law, he studied rules to fight it. We didn't have a lot of money. He did the legwork himself. He did everything he could to show that it didn't happen."
A matter of honesty
Love isn't reluctant to talk about his battles with MU. He knew the allegations would come up when he decided to run for mayor.
"Believe it or not, it's almost kind of therapy on my part,” he says. “It put the tank on my career for a few years. It's just hard to deal with."
Despite the events of last fall, Love says he’s done fighting MU. "It used to bother me a lot,” he says, “until a friend of mine said, ‘Look, if you act like you're guilty, people will assume that you're guilty. Get over it.’"
Love says he could maintain a working relationship with MU as mayor. “I can maintain relationships as a business interest.”
Love says he was inspired to run for mayor after a woman was murdered in the parking lot of the Red Roof Inn near his home in north Columbia last October. He says he knows several people who have been victims of crime in recent years.
"I didn't used to see that in Columbia," he says.
He doesn’t know what his chances of being mayor are, but he’s happy to talk about issues he cares about.
"I'll be honest with you. At this point I've raised more money for the Special Olympics than I have for my campaign," he says. Love raised money for the Special Olympics by participating in the Polar Bear Plunge last month at Stephens Lake Park.
"If you need a lot of money to get elected, you may think you need a lot of money to run the city, and frankly you're not going to have it," he says.
Love thinks that his opinions sometimes make him unpopular but that it's more important to be truthful. "People tell me, we're glad you're at least honest, but you know you can't get elected doing that."
Love says that doesn't worry him because if it doesn't work out, he's already got a job.
"Frankly, let's be honest, the mayor's job is not that fabulous," he says. "It's a lot of work for no pay. I don't want it badly enough to lie for it. Maybe I'm not going to be a good politician. I don't plan on being a politician. I'm a very good computer guy."