Page 6 of 8
"They made a big spectacle of handcuffing me in front of my neighbors and shaming and embarrassing me," he says.
Tolbert fought his case all the way to a circuit court trial. The jury found him guilty and imposed a harsh sentence: a $500 fine and six months in jail. He served four months of the sentence. Michael Dailey, a lawyer in private practice who was the city prosecutor on the case, says of Tolbert: "I'd say he's not persecuted by the city. He is prosecuted by the city for continuing and flagrant violations of codes to which all citizens are held accountable."
Tolbert shrugs off his time in jail. He compares himself to Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. "In the black community, my having joined the brotherhood, the fraternity, of ex-offenders made me politically stronger."
Jail didn't teach Tolbert much about keeping up his properties.
Higgs sees Tolbert drop by to get his mail from the house on 36th Street every day, before returning to the apartment he lives in at 39th Street and Olive. "He tells me, 'If you guys would quit taking me to court, I'd have time to clean this mess up.' I said, 'Richard, this has been going on for three years. How much time do you need?'" Higgs adds, "He graduated from Yale, sure enough. I applaud him for that. I wouldn't take that from him. But he's an educated fool, is what he is."
Meanwhile, Tolbert has transferred ownership of the house on 36th Street and 16 other properties to a church he says he founded called All-Denominational New Church. He won't say when the church holds services or how many members are in its congregation. "You can have a church of one," he says. "But there are more than one." The church, he admits, was created to protect him from the city's scrutiny of his properties.
Code inspectors came by recently and asked Tolbert's neighbor, Joe Wheeler, if he knew Pastor Tolbert. "I've called him a lot of things in my day," Wheeler told them, "but 'pastor' wasn't one of them."
Tolbert counts the city's establishment among his enemies, but the truth is, many members of the establishment have plenty of good things to say about him. Despite the damage Tolbert has done to the city's east side, Kansas City keeps welcoming Tolbert back to the political arena in typical, friendly Midwestern fashion.
When reminded that he used to admonish Tolbert publicly, Charles Wheeler tells the Pitch: "That applied to any Council member. If I thought they weren't keeping up, I thought it was my job as mayor to chide them."
Like Wheeler, most people choose their words carefully when asked about Tolbert. David Buie, who serves as trustee of Metropolitan Community College, says: "I think he's had some real sane things to say on the subject of African-American education and the development of things we need to have a diverse system."