Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Rants is questioning the business acumen of rival Bob Vander Plaats, while an associate of Vander Plaats defends his work. Rants points to tax returns for “Opportunities Unlimited” — a nonprofit based in Sioux City that was headed by Vander Plaats.
“Bob always claims that Iowa needs ‘a turnaround C.E.O.’ but taking an operating surplus and turning it into a deficit is something Governor Culver has already perfected,” Rants says. “We don’t need another C.E.O. who specializes in downturns. We need somebody who can actually balance budgets, not take on debt and improve Iowa’s fiscal condition.”
According to Rants, Opportunities Unlimited had an operating surplus when Vander Plaats arrived, but by 2003 it had a deficit. A spokesman for Vander Plaats dismisses the charges from Rants, saying they are “wholly inaccurate.” Eric Woolson, a spokesman for the Vander Plaats campaign, says in 2001 Vander Plaats moved out of the C.E.O. role to became chairman, then in mid-2002 Vander Plaats assumed a “strategic vision role” for a sister organization called “Quality Living.”
Rants counters that while Vander Plaats left the C.E.O. position in 2001, he was still a key manager. “He turned an operational surplus into a deficit. He doubled the debt that they took on. Their public support for their charity dried up during his tenure,” Rants says. “It’s a record of taking a good organization and putting it in the tank.”
The chairman of Opportunities Unlimited has issued a statement defending Vander Plaats, saying it is “unfortunate that such negative statements would be issued based on inaccuracies.”
Rants points to the tax records which show charitable contributions to the nonprofit were over half a million the year Vander Plaats arrived and had dropped to less than $30,000 in the year Vander Plaats left his job there as a consultant.
“He left the organization, I think, in worse shape than he started with,” Rants says.
Rants is raising this issue today because Rants says Vander Plaats said this at a recent campaign forum: “At the last meeting we were at together he talked about how he had quadrupled the assets of the organization and it just seemed odd. It didn’t seem realistic that net assets would go up by 430 percent as he claimed and so I figured it was time to check it out.”
The chairman of Opportunities Unlimited says Vander Plaats was recruited in 1996 to lead the agency when it was in “grim” financial straits and after four-and-a-half years, Vander Plaats had “substantially improved” the nonprofit’s financial condition and expanded its services.
“It is sad that Bob’s success as a C.E.O. at Opportunities Unlimited would be questioned by someone who did none of that hard work,” said Dr. Kim Hoogeveen.