Outgoing Springfield City Council Member Talks About What it's Like to Serve
There’s still time—though not a lot—for anyone interested in running for Springfield City Council to gather signatures and submit a petition and application. The deadline is January 20th. KSMU’s Michele Skalicky sat down with current Springfield City Council member, Doug Burlison, to find out what it’s like to serve on council and to get advice for those thinking about running.
When March is over, Doug Burlison will have served on Springfield City Council for eight years. He’s in a good position to give advice to anyone planning to run, and he did just that in December. He held a forum for potential candidates to learn what it’s like to hold a campaign and serve on council. Two people showed up, but Burlison says it was a matter of quality over quantity. They had a good conversation, he says, and he feels good about their potential.
He held the forum, in large part, to make sure his position is adequately filled. Burlison says he ran for council nearly eight years ago mostly to make sure his two sons have a good city to live in when they’re grown. He decided to run again after his first four-year term was up because he felt like his job wasn’t done.
"You kind of feel like you're really just getting your footing as far as the processes involved at City Hall, and serving for that amount of time and then just leaving I felt like there would have been some things left unfinished," he said.
Now that it’s time to pass the baton on to someone else, he’s eager to help anyone who is thinking about running. He believes strongly that a governing board like Springfield City Council needs citizen representatives on it.
"You know, a lot of times staff are enmeshed in issues and maybe sometimes they get a little too close to something, and the other point is you've got to be a voice of the community and, you know, not necessarily the community is coming to City Hall to voice their opinion, so that's where it's good to have that representation out there," he said.
A good candidate, he says, needs to “play well with others.” They should be able to debate issues on a civil level.
"We're kind of at this day and age in our society where we feel like if we disagree with somebody we have to, you know, just really hate them and dislike them, and they become enemies. You can't really do that at this level. You're gonna have to get along with people that you disagree with," he said.
According to Burlison, listening to constituents is important. That can get complicated at times since people often have a wide range of viewpoints, but if you employ civility and common sense, he says, it’s hard to go wrong.
"You know, you can't please everybody all the time, and it's gonna be controversial, and what I do appreciate about the councils I've been involved with and the colleagues I've served with, we haven't really been too interested in wanting to kick the can down the road. You know, I think we've exhibited some will to want to deal with things as they occur rather than, you know, try to defer the maintenance on any particular issue," he said.
Burlison’s favorite part of serving on council has been working with city staff who he calls “very professional people.” A challenging aspect has been getting negative feedback from those who oppose how he stands on an issue. But he knows it’s important to hear it.
"It's important to listen to those even though you might vehemently disagree with them. I think the big part of the job is at least listening to what constituents have to communicate to you," he said.
Burlison says it’s up to the individual council member to decide how much time to put into the position, for the most part. Members are required to attend a meeting every Tuesday from noon to 1 and public meetings every other Monday night. There are some committee meetings during the week, which are generally over the lunch hour. Outside of that, the time spent on the job is up to each council member. He averages about ten hours each week on council tasks—sometimes 20 or 30 hours.
Why work so hard and not get paid?
"The impetus to get involved in something like this on a volunteer basis is to do what you can to keep your community a nice community or improve it as much as you can," he said.
He encourages anyone still on the fence to make the leap if the reason they’re thinking about running is to make a difference. According to Burlison, often it’s people who haven’t been involved in city government who provide the best representation. He says you shouldn’t let fear or intimidation prevent you from running.
"Thinking that you're not smart enough or that you don't have enough skills. This is designed for the regular citizen to get involved with and represent, so I would just try to recommend to people try to ignore your fears about this. It's, I think, a very laudable effort to get involved, and I don't know that there's gonna be too many regrets if you're doing it for the right reasons," he said.
Anyone interested in running for an open city council seat or for Springfield mayor has until 5 pm January 20th to officially file an application with the city clerk’s office. These seats are up for grabs in the April election: mayor, General Seat C, General Seat D, Zone 2 and Zone 3.
Those wishing to file petitions must meet these criteria: be a qualified voter of the city, a resident of Springfield for at least two years immediately prior to the election and, if filing for one of the zone seats, must be a resident of that zone for at least one year prior to the election.
Potential candidates for a zone seat must get signatures from at least 100 registered voters in that zone, and potential candidates for a general seat must get signature from 200 registered voters who live in the city.
The General Municipal Election will be held April 7th.
To learn more about running for Springfield City Council, click here.
These are the candidates certified to run to date:
Buckley "Buck" Van Hooser, Zone 2
Kristi S. Fulnecky, General C
Bob Stephens, Mayor
Justin Burnett, Zone 2
Len Eagleburger, General C
Ken McClure, General D