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News covering policy and issues related to city and county governments in the Ozarks.

Councilman Justin Burnett Resigns

Justin Burnett
City of Springfield
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Springfield Councilman Justin Burnett has resigned after moving out of City Council Zone 2 and into the southern part of the city.  

According to an email from the city, Mayor Bob Stephens responded to an email from Burnett, accepting his resignation, noting that he no longer meets the residency requirements to serve as Zone 2 Councilman.

This is the second time Burnett has resigned.  In January, the councilman submitted his resignation, citing health concerns.  He rescinded that resignation soon after.

The news release says, historically, when a Council member resigns, City Council will set a timeframe for accepting applications. "Once that deadline has passed, those applications are forwarded to City Council and decisions are made as to the interview process. City Charter section 2.5 states that vacancies will be filled after a majority City Council vote and the appointee will serve in that position until the next regular City election. Timeline details will be provided at a later date."

Below is the email sent by Burnett:

Email text from Justin Burnett:

Colleagues, Staff, & Community:

As summer officially winds down, I am making an announcement. For several years now, a family member and I have wanted to move to south Springfield, and after new ownership recently acquired our apartment, this decision was finalized. As of today, I no longer have a home in zone 2, or northeast Springfield. Unfortunately, after talking to the City Clerk, it is clear that the City Charter requires council members to reside within their zone, and since I am not a general city council member, I now cease to meet this qualification and my office will immediately become vacant.

It has been an honor to serve the people of northeast Springfield. This past year has especially been a highlight, as I have sought to bring unity between different groups of people in our community. Almost 9 months ago, I nearly quit council but decided that my goal was to use my influence to bridge the ideological and cultural gaps that often divide people. Over the months that followed, I put my education and career on hold and spent every spare minute meeting with atheists, people of faith, members of the LGBT community, and activists in the Free the Nipple movement. Each of these groups have been involved in contentious social issues over the past few years and every one of them is important to me. As a council member, I am tasked to represent everyone. As a human, I choose to love everyone.

Through countless coffee meetings and several public events, the walls began to come down. The common theme gleaned from them was this: we are all united by our common humanity. Slogans on a wall won't unite us; genuine love for one another will. As a result of this months-long effort, the recall petition against me was cancelled and former political enemies began to work together for the betterment of our community through a prism of friendship. There has also been movement on the issues of homelessness and poverty through greater advocacy, and I am excited to see several new projects come to fruition. With my departure, I don't want to see this effort fail. Whoever my successor is, I encourage him or her to continue building people up. The state of zone 2 is strong today and it will take unconditional love and strength to maintain that condition.

In regards to the criminal justice system, we have a plethora of options. County and city leaders will have to decide on how to finance a larger jail facility, which could be in the form of a low sales tax with a sunset provision to ensure the citizens' protection. That expansion--coupled with comprehensive criminal justice system reform (diversion programs and initiatives like "Ban the Box") and plans to combat poverty--should keep the community and leaders united in solving the region's greatest concern. I also want to encourage my successor to avoid campaigning on "no new tax" pledges, as I have. If there is one grey area with tax levels, it is funding for our police and the criminal justice system. No issue is more important, which is why we must be cautious and leave all options on the table for careful deliberation. Ultimately, the voters will decide.

I would be remiss in failing to mention my colleagues and city staff. The City Clerk's office, under the direction of Anita Cotter, serves as an exemplary model of professionalism, as does the City Manager's office. Staff members have handled constituent cases with ease and grace, and for that, I am thankful. The individual neighborhood issues--including complaints of excessive noise, speeding, dilapidated sidewalks, heavy truck traffic, and flooding--could not have been resolved without the tireless work of these genuine public servants.

My colleagues--who I consider extended family--are people who also have the city's best interests at heart, otherwise they wouldn't be serving. I appreciate each of them and their collective desire to make our community better. Whoever seeks re-election, a first-term election, or wins the mayoral race will have their work cut out for them. I send my complete support and admiration, as I want our city to succeed.

In April of 2015, I embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime journey. It has molded me into who I am today, which would not have happened without going through some tough challenges. In the coming days, I plan to complete my college degree and become a first-generation college graduate. I have overcome many obstacles to get to this point, which I don't often talk about. Due to unplanned events during high school, I never officially graduated. I did go on to acquire my GED, enroll in classes at OTC, achieve Chancellor's List designation, and was later inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society. To any young person reading this, I would encourage you to pursue higher education, for this is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. You can take classes sparingly and pay your way through, as I am doing. I cannot speak highly enough of our local educational institutes. You can be anything, or anyone, if you will put your mind to it.

In summary, we are in a unique time in history. Nationally and locally, we are faced with delicate issues that require thoughtful leadership. We must acknowledge that there are still challenges for minority groups in our community, and only love and understanding will heal that divide as we seek to treat each other as equals. May we seek to forge an even better and kinder future together.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.
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