Bumper Sticker, Part 2

This jerk works for John Ashcroft!

If you’re like me, then when you read about how Lynne Gobbell lost her factory job, your first question was, “What kind of asshole would fire an employee for driving to work in a car with a John Kerry bumper sticker?” Answer: An asshole who works for the Bush administration.

Philip A. Geddes is the petty tyrant who fired Gobbell from her job operating a bagging machine at Enviromate, the housing-insulation plant he owns, because Gobbell wouldn’t remove a Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker from the rear windshield of her Chevy Lumina. The silver lining is that John Kerry heard about it and hired Gobbell. She started on Sept. 20, and is getting paid roughly what she got at Enviromate plus health benefits, which she never got at Enviromate. (Gobell’s main function thus far has been to tell her story on the campaign trail. She appeared with Kerry today in Jacksonville, Fla.)

Phil Geddes is a man of many parts, or so I imagine (he’s been avoiding the press). Introducing homeowners to the miracle that is cellulose insulation isn’t his only livelihood. He is also a Chapter 13 standing trustee for the Northern District of Alabama, which is a fancy way of saying that he collects money from deadbeats and turns it over to the saps who extended them credit. (Chapter 13 is essentially “bankruptcy lite,” though experts reserve the b-word for more recalcitrant debtors.) This isn’t, technically, a government job, because the standing trustees don’t get paid by the government. Instead, they collect a fixed percentage of the Chapter 13 transactions they supervise. Standing trustees are, however, appointed by the Justice department to serve a given region. At least theoretically, they are supervised by Justice and can be fired by Justice. To quote one Justice document, standing trustees

effectively function as economic monopolists, [much] like public utilities. Debtors cannot select who will act as their trustee. They must accept the trustee who is appointed for them. …[T]rustees do not have to compete in the marketplace for cases as they arise.

Nice work if you can get it!

Nothing would please me more than to tell you it was President Bush or Attorney General John Ashcroft who elevated Geddes to the rentier class. Alas, I cannot. Public-private arrangements like this are notoriously difficult to keep track of, and the division of the Justice department that supervises standing trustees has not yet been able to tell me when Geddes was appointed. It was able to establish, though, that Geddes has been a standing trustee since at least 1995, which gets Bush fils off the hook (though not necessarily Bush pere). Standing trustees “seem to stay in place administration after administration,” one bankruptcy attorney explained to me.

Nonetheless, we all know where the buck stops, and certainly the president doesn’t have a bigger fan than Geddes, who thoughtfully sent a flyer to his employees at Enviromate enumerating the many things the company was able to do thanks to Bush’s tax cuts: “buy the new Hammer Mill,” “get the wire cutter,” “give you a job,” etc. Geddes failed to mention, though, another way that the president’s economic policies blessed him. They drove up the number of Alabama’s Chapter 13 filings fully 9 percent between 2000 and 2003. Given a bumper crop like that, who wouldn’t fire anyone who disrespected the guy who spreads the fertilizer?