From evaluating the city’s public safety needs and its court-tested policies to assessing their diplomatic abilities, to two candidates for Springfield mayor shared how they would govern if elected during a Thursday forum.
Kristi Fulnecky and Ken McClure, both general seat incumbents on the City Council, took questions before some 160 spectators at the Library Center.
Fulnecky is the owner of Fulnecky Law and Fulnecky Enterprises, a construction management company. She currently serves on the Mercy Health Foundation Board of Directors. She’s worked as a private attorney in Washington, D.C., conducting services for a defense contracting company and the Department of Interior. She was also a technical writer for the U.S. Navy. Fulnecky has held leadership positions with Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield Ballet, Great Circle, and others. She was elected to General Seat C in April 2015.
McClure, who is now retired, was formerly vice president for Administrative and Information Services at Missouri State University. He served for 20 years in Jefferson City, including as budget analyst for the Missouri Senate Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Missouri Public Service Commission. He’s served as chief of staff for former Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt. Leadership roles have come with the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Springfield Area Council of Churches, among others. Elected to General Seat D in April 2015, McClure also serves as Springfield Mayor Pro Tem.
Both candidates agree that public safety is their number one priority, but offered different proposals for solving the police department’s budget and staffing shortages.
Fulnecky, who has the endorsement of the Springfield Police Officer’s Association, says it’s more than just adding police officers.
“It’s just their basic equipment for protection,” she says.
In terms of staffing, the department has been struggling to recruit enough officers to meet its authorized force of 352. That figure, however, doesn’t mean that’s how many officers are on the street. Fulnecky says not counting the academy trainees would help.
“When you take the candidates out it’s an actual reflection of the officers on the street, so they tell me that would make a big difference,” she says.
McClure says if elected he’d like to establish a contingency budgeting plan in the event of a budget surplus that’s dedicated to public safety.
“This would take out a lot of the argument as we have in the event that we are able to carry forward funds. We’ve had those the past two years and we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how that’s dispensed,” he says.
Outside of that plan, McClure said there are three options to invest more in police and fire: Cut the budget elsewhere, raise taxes – which he opposes – or find additional sources of revenue.
“We don’t have very good options. Our sales tax revenues this year are flat. We probably will not meet our budget. So we’re going to have a challenge going forward.”
According to McClure, who has been endorsed by the Springfield Professional Fire Fighters Association, 60 percent of Springfield’s operating budget goes toward fire and police services.
Budget Review & Spending
The 60 percent of Springfield’s budget that is said to go toward police and fire operations is a figure that Fulnecky disputes, saying the city makes available only summary budgets and not by line item. So they’re not privy to the details.
“Really for a $360 million budget, it depends on what your priorities are. There’s not enough money in there to do the things that we need for public safety it depends on your priorities…if your priority is public safety then you get it done.”
“I have seen the line items,” says McClure, “If my opponent has not then she is not asking the right questions.”
McClure notes that he agrees with a shift to a line item budget analysis.
The city spends $150,000 on lobbying in Jefferson City, which Fulnecky calls “wasted” money. That should be left to the elected lawmakers, she says, noting that money could instead be used to “give all our police officers a pay raise.”
McClure says that among Springfield’s biggest priorities in Jefferson City is communicating the city’s desire for “local control,” and that the city’s employment of a lobbyist is a “credit.”
“We are expected to be in Jefferson City and we are expected to be at the table,” says McClure. “To say that the mayor is going to do the lobbying reflects I think on the naïveté about what the process does.”
Attorney’s fees have cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years in defending ordinances that were challenged in court, or even issues that emerged in-house
Most notably is the ongoing dispute between the City of Springfield and Greene County over the housing of municipal inmates at the county jail. After Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott stopped accepting municipal inmates in April 2015 due to overcrowding, the city filed suit, saying they are entitled to the space citing a 1997 agreement.
“The first thing I would do is I would drop the lawsuit,” says Fulnecky. “It’s hard to work on a long-term solution when you’re in an adversarial relationship.”
McClure did not specifically mention his views on the lawsuit, only noting he understands both Greene County and the city have issues in housing inmates. He did say that strong relationships are key to identifying a solution.
“I have every confidence that it will be solved soon, and that’s because everyone is now activity sitting down and we’re talking and that’s based upon the strong relationships that we have.”
In contrast, the city repealed its aggressive panhandling ordinance in 2016 after it was sued by the ACLU, which cited first amendment rights, rather than defend it in court. The city points to the fact that similar laws were failing court challenges across the country.
That lawsuit is one Fulnecky had urged the city to fight for.
“I feel strongly that we should look into options and not be afraid of the ACLU suing on every single issue that we have. I feel strongly that we need to institute a panhandling ordinance.”
As an attorney herself, Fulnecky adds, “there’s other case law that you can follow.
McClure responded, “Freedom of speech and 1st Amendment issues are critical. Whether we like panhandling or not, they have a constitutional right to do that.”
McClure, like Fulnecky, was in favor of reconsidering a new safety panhandling ordinance that passes the legal challenge.
Then there was the issue of Fulnecky’s eligibility to be on council. In summer 2016, Springfield City Council formally accepted a report from a city-hired attorney that concluded the councilwoman was not eligible to run for office or take the oath in 2015. The report was based on Fulnecky’s alleged failing to obtain and pay for a city business license for seven straight years. As of June, the city had paid nearly $80,000 on the matter.
On Thursday, Fulnecky suggested there are better ways to spend taxpayer money.
“We have high crime, we have all these other issues, we have people in poverty, people that are struggling to put food on the table for their family, and they [council] is coming after me. There’s arguments both ways, but I just feel in a leadership position that you say, ‘We’re not gonna talk about this, we’re not gonna litigate over this, we’re not gonna do this, we’re gonna talk about paying police officers more today,’” she said.
“Yes we spend money on counsel,” McClure responded, “we did that because my opponent hired private counsel – the rest of us had to have some. So that was pretty much a no-brainer for me.”
Civility Among Council, City
In questioning the accuracy of the city’s budget toward police and fire, Fulnecky said it’s one reason she’s “always in the news - because I ask these questions.”
Since joining council in 2015, Fulnecky has been outspoken on numerous issues, and in recent months has been the lone dissenting vote on a number of bills before the council. She says in many cases it’s because she wants to hear the other side of the debate and it isn’t presented.
“Too many times on council they come to us and want us to be a rubber stamp and work for the staff. We do not work for the staff. I work for the people of Springfield and the people of Springfield are the top, then the council, then the staff,” said Fulnecky.
McClure says differences in opinion are a good thing.
“Many times when you have a 9-0 vote or an 8-1 vote it’s because that’s where the facts lead you to go. An 8-1 vote is not bad, a 9-0 is not bad, a 5-4 vote is not bad,” he said.
When asked how they’d both maintain a good working relationship with city staff, McClure said he knows how to do that because of past leadership experience.
“That doesn’t mean you always follow what they say,” he says. “A good mayor, in this instance, will lead the council in setting what the priorities will be, and that’s what I intend to do… those will be passed onto the city manager.”
Fulnecky credits her private sector experience to understanding when to make changes. She believes the the status quo isn’t working, and says she can be a “change agent.”
“The way I see it, we have to give power back to the people…It doesn’t mean you have a bad relationship with the [staff].”
Both candidates, asked to rank their diplomacy skills on a scale of 1 to 5, gave themselves a 5.
McClure cited his work in facilitating the name change of Southwest Missouri State University to Missouri State University in 2005, while he was serving on Gov. Blunt’s staff.
“His [Blunt’s] direction was very simple: Get it done. And so that got down to how do you work with people? There were strong advocates on the other side, primarily from the University of Missouri. We were able to get that done forming a consensus.”
McClure says throughout his career he’s afforded others the opportunity to express their opinion when debating issues when seeking common ground.
Fulnecky says she has taken the time to listen to constituents, even if she doesn’t know a lot about the issue’s up front. She cites the Springfield Bully Alliance, a group that frequents council meetings.
“They told me they had been coming to council meetings for two years and no one had listened to them. And I thought well I don’t know anything about this issue but I think it’s ridiculous that no one is listening to these c onstituents.”
Her campaign says she’d be a “citizen mayor” for everyone. Regardless of if you agree or disagree with her, Fulnecky says she “will always listen to you.”
The solution comes by bringing all the major nonprofit partners together, according to Fulnecky. She cited groups like Isabel’s House, which housings victims of domestic violence, but is many cases has to turn away people because it is at capacity.
“We need city leaders to draw attention to these places,” she says.
McClure referenced recently launched initiatives like Prosper Springfield, which connects over 300 partner organizations to help impoverished citizens measurably improve their situations. Ultimately, McClure says low wages and poverty is solved by employing an educated workforce.
“What we have got to do is find a good way to get job training and workforce development into play.”
Later in the forum, both candidates discussed another recent city initiative that aims to offer jobs to panhandlers and reduce their reliance on seeking donations at busy intersections.
McClure says the pilot project is a good start, while Fulnecky still believes a panhandling ordinance is needed to bring a solution to the issue.
Funding and Influence
The Springfield mayoral competition has seen a high amount of donations on both sides, with Fulnecky’s camp having earned over $105,000 in contributions as of the Feb. 23 finance report. McClure’s account showed just over $73,000.The next report for candidates is due out Monday.
Both were asked who their top donors to their campaigns were.
Fulnecky said the Cook family, owners of a Springfield manufacturing company, are her biggest campaign contributors to date.
Campaign finance reports show Gerald Cook made a $10,000 donation to Fulnecky’s campaign on May 26, 2016. Most of her contributions have been $1,000 or less.
Fulnecky feels she can have an impartial view on local issues that come before council, even if there’s an appearance of a conflict of interest, and doesn’t feel a need to recuse herself. She referenced a recent vote against a Community Improvement District measure that directly impacted a donor of hers.
“I make a decision based on the facts before me,” she says.
McClure initially declined to give the names of his donors, saying they will come out when the newest report is released on Monday. A few minutes later, he noted that his top donation has come in the amount of $5,000, on two separate occasions, from SRC Manufacturing.
On Nov 8, McClure’s campaign, according to records, received two, $5,000 checks from Southwest Missouri Investments, Inc. and Remanufacturing Sales Corp.
“In terms of conflicts of interest, I do not foresee any conflicts. If there are every any conflicts I will certainly recuse myself,” he said.
Ken McClure: mcclureformayor.com
Kristi Fulnecky: fulneckyforspringfield.com