Two Openings, Five Candidates Vying for Springfield General Council Seats
Two general seat races on Springfield City Council are part of a crowded municipal ballot in which six total positions will be decided Tuesday.
Voters will also select candidates from three zoned districts and for Springfield mayor. Since the two mayoral candidates are current incumbents in the middle of their terms, their vacated seat will have to be filled after the election.
General Seats A and B feature five total candidates, four of whom attended a candidate’s forum last week, March 23, at the Springfield Library Center, with some 160 people in attendance.
Jan Fisk is the General Seat A incumbent, to which she was appointed in June 2012. She’s chief financial officer at Fisk Limousines, a company founded by her and her husband, J. Howard Fisk, in 1976. Fisk is a volunteer with the Springfield Symphony, Girl Scouts of the Heartland and the Junior League of Springfield, among other organizations. She attended Southwest Missouri State University.
Jesse Coulter is a project manager and energy specialist with Synergistic. He serves as a volunteer with his church, where he’s head of security. He retired from the U.S. military after serving three tours in Iraq. Coulter is a Missouri State University graduate, having earned his degree there in business operations management.
Allen Kemper, now retired, formerly worked for his family business, Kemper Sign Company. He earned a degree in missions and biblical studies at the Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas. He volunteers his time with Veterans Coming Home Springfield Homeless Outreach Center, as well as facilitates chapel service and sermons to prisoners in the Greene County Jail.
Craig Hosmer, General Seat B incumbent, was elected to the post 2013. He’s an attorney for the firm Hosmer, King and Royce. Hosmer served four terms in the Missouri State House of Representatives in the 138th district. He’s also served on the Veterans Cemetery Board. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Missouri and a law degree from George Washington University.
Curtis Montgomery is a stay-at-home dad and operates Christian Rap: A New Way to Worship. He’s held an internship with the James River Basin Partnership, and is former vice president for the Springfield Chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. He’s also been a fundraiser for the National Republican Committee and National Rifle Association. He earned a degree in business administration from Evangel University.
Montgomery declined a request to participate in last week’s forum, according to the Springfield News-Leader, which conducted the debate. KSMU reached out to the candidate this week to hear his views on local issues, but did not hear back.
Conservative or Progressive?
For the most part, each candidate’s viewpoints throughout the night were reflective of an answer they gave midway through the forum: Do you think Springfield should be more conservative, more progressive, or about the same?
“I think progressive in the sense of being smart,” said Hosmer. “Some of the things that we do on council I don’t think is smart.”
Planning and zoning, for instance, is one area Hosmer feels the city can improve. According to Hosmer, the city lets developers tell them where they want to put an apartment complex and then neighborhoods have to try and fight that.
“Rather than planning the city and saying ‘this is the plan the city’s going to follow.’”
He also called debate on council a “healthy thing,” noting that divergent opinions help challenge leaders to think differently on various issues.
“Whether it’s progressive – I think that’s one of the nice things about being on a non-partisan council. I was born and raised a Democrat, I was elected a Democrat. But on council, it’s not the idea of whether it’s a Democrat idea or a Republican idea, it’s whether it’s a good idea. And that’s the way it should be,” he said.
Allen Kemper followed, suggesting that by working together in peace and harmony and “realizing what is best for our neighbors instead of for ourselves” will achieve success.
He then cautioned people from labeling others as conservative or progressive, noting many have drifted away from the core beliefs of their leaders. Kemper said on this front President Donald Trump has offered a “fresh wind.” The statement brought a chorus of “boos” and opposing comments from spectators.
After the brief outburst, Kemper continued amid other heckles, “What I’m saying is, he [Trump] is open minded, he’s received a lot of influence and a lot of input. And that’s what I believe on city council we can be able to serve each one better.”
Kemper added he believes in the Constitution, he doesn’t believe in the “progressing” or “developing constitution,” but that “God gave the best way that we can govern ourselves as a free society.”
For Jan Fisk, Springfield should be “very progressive.”
“If we want to retain these thousands of college students that are young and energetic… then we need to offer them something to say ‘Hey this is a cool place to live.’”
She noted council’s recent vote to allow Uber, the ride-hailing service, to operate in Springfield. Fisk, given her work in the transportation industry, actually recused herself from the November vote.
She says council is now considering local rules surrounding Airbnb, the home-rental service. In the past, says Fisk, the city hasn’t been as open to such business.
“I really feel that being forward-thinking, noticing what’s going on in the rest of the nation, keeping up with that because we are one of the largest growing areas in the state – but let’s make it attractive so people will wanna stay here,” she said.
Coulter began his answer to the question by saying he’s “fiscally conservative.”
“I like to ensure that government is small and spends our taxpayer money correctly,” he said. “I’m sure most people in this room feel we have enough taxes on each of us… But I’m also a capitalist, so I believe in the free market.”
He added that the word progressive is “just a bad word in my vernacular,” which drew a handful of boos from the audience.
“I will say that I’m for free market, businesses making their own decisions, government getting out of the way of businesses, and I think that’s kind of where our city can grow and bring in, like Jan said, bring in the younger people to have businesses and grow businesses in this area.’
Echoing his fiscally conservative stance, Coulter feels the best way to drive economic activity and higher wages in Springfield is by getting out of businesses ways.
“I believe that starts with reviewing and reducing city regulations that are already out there. I’m not saying every regulation needs to be taken away but I think we need to review the ones that are old and streamline it so that we can get the city moving in the right direction and letting local businesses grow.”
This action will also encourage outside businesses to invest in Springfield, he says.
Growing the local economy also requires better investment from the city, says Coulter. He pointed to the north side’s Jefferson Avenue Footbridge, which council in February committed over $200,000 toward a structural design that will enable its restoration. The millions needed to actually restore the bridge, however, which has been closed for a year due to safety concerns, has not been identified.
Dedicating money on the front end without a way to pay for it long-term, says Coulter, “Seems like you’re putting the cart before the horse.”
Fisk pointed to her small business experience as a benefit on council. She and her husband were in their mid-twenties when they came up with the idea for Fisk Limousines. She points to receiving support from the chamber and local mentors in getting the business off the ground.
“Now that I’m on council I’ve had the opportunity to when a zoning issue is coming up or a business to build their own building or something then I can work with that ordinance to improve it to say, ‘Hey yes.’”
She used as an example, Menards, with which the city is working to bring the home-improvement chain and its jobs to Springfield.
“So just being a welcoming community, working with our planning and development departments are wonderful to work with,” she says.
Kemper hopes officials can help inspire passion in citizens to create a better economic environment.
I hope, he says, we can “Stir up with people it is your own responsibility to ask and say ‘Where is the niche that I may fit that people aren’t seeing and be able to give everything I can, my whole drive, to be able to meet the needs in that niche.’”
Our needs are met when we meet other’s needs, he added.
“And we get super abundantly blessed in every way when we put Jesus first, the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then all these other things will be added onto us.”
For Hosmer, a great economy starts with a great education system.
“If you talk to employers across the country, one of the biggest things they look for is that want a job force that is properly educated. So that is vitally important that Springfield continue to have top-notch public schools and make sure we retain good teachers.”
He also spoke about smart economic development, denouncing “broad-based use of blight.” Instead, says Hosmer, the city should incentivize current businesses to keep and expand their workforce.
He again mentioned “smart” development, saying tax abatements are not a good use of city resources.
“When you take that property tax away from our schools we’re hurting ourselves and we’re hurting our long-term economic viability in my opinion.”
A simple question: “What should city council do to address public safety?” brought a range of not-so-simple answers at the forum.
For Fisk, economic development has been hindered by crime. She equates the amount of petty crime in Springfield to the abundance of drug use.
“So I would really like to see a more dedicated effort to hiring more investigators to be in touch with this drug traffic that we see going on.”
She’s in favor of a prescription drug monitoring program, which came before council in mid-March.
60 percent of Springfield’s budget is dedicated toward police and fire services, says Fisk. She feels that amount is critical, but would like to see more dollars put into those departments through carry-over funds.
Kemper says he sees first-hand those affected by drugs and alcohol in our community through times spent with inmates at the county jail. He suggests encouraging all those offering support services for addicts.
“I would like the see the police receiving the same salary, at least, as cities that are dealing with the same kind of problems that we are. It is embarrassing to hear that our police are underpaid by those standards,” said Kemper.
He proposed liquidating other areas of the budget to make available more funds for officers. Kemper also suggested helping put veterans in a position to assist “Not necessarily with guns, but keep an eye on our neighborhoods with sticks.”
Hosmer said Springfield’s Police Department has 40 fewer police officers than it should have. While he acknowledges that more officers doesn’t always lead to less crime, but that “crime is going in the wrong direction.”
“Of the 14 cities that we compare ourselves we have 16,000 part 1 offenses – those are the most serious offenses that there are. If you look at the other benchmark cities they have more police officers than we do. Our officers, on average, handle 50 crimes per officer. The next closest city is like 30 crimes per officer,” he says.
He believes the city could do better enforcing its laws and supporting its police department, asking that officials better prioritize its budget to that effect. If not, says Hosmer, safety becomes lacking and economic development suffers.
Coulter also feels the police department is understaffed and underpaid. He says Springfield is losing recruits to nearby cities like Tulsa.
“I disagree that the city council has put law enforcement at the top of their list. As you’ve seen they have lawsuits against our local law enforcement, there’s no votes on equipment needs for them that have happened over the last couple years,” says Coulter.
The city has to address the abundance of violent crime occurring, he adds.
Coulter also said the current panhandling issue has brought more crime to Springfield, and believes the council should have fought more to retain its ordinance against aggressive panhandling. The city repealed its aggressive panhandling last year after courts had struck down similar laws elsewhere.
“In the military we have a little saying ‘It’s a crap sandwich.’ And they’ve [council] created a crap sandwich, and at this point we’re gonna have to eat it, because as taxpayers we’re gonna put money into a program that may or may not work.”
Coulter is referring to a new initiative that aims to offer day jobs to panhandlers and encourage them away from asking for money at busy intersections.
Work Together on Council
The contention between council members in recent months was a question asked by a citizen attending the town-hall type forum on March 23. The topic brought strong views from the city’s two mayoral candidates during a separate forum that evening.
Kemper referred back to previous comments that diverse ideas on council are good for city government.
“That yes, butting heads but in a civil way we may come to that place we agree to disagree agreeably.”
He added that you can’t please people all the time, but he’s open to listening to citizens and their concerns.
“I have a big listening ear and a small mouth,” said Kemper. “I do not speak unless I have a true feeling and witness and knowing that what I’m doing for the betterment of Springfield, Missouri.”
Coulter says he wants to see discussion on council on various ideas, but not groupthink.
“If there was two “nos” and the yes were green [votes] for the good I don’t think that that’s fighting and your beliefs are there and you can talk through those things.”
Coulter says he’s been to several council meetings and recognizes a mutual respect for one another.
“I have a great deal of respect for those that I serve with on council,” said General Seat B incumbent Craig Hosmer.
He believes everyone on council is there for the right reasons, and claims of infighting are sometimes blown out of proportion.
Hosmer added, “I think we work together relatively well and I think if someone else changes east and is elected I think we’ll work relatively well with them as well.”
Fisk contends the council is not fighting, that everyone has respect for each other.
“Otherwise I wouldn’t be up here doing this [running for council] again,” she said.
She continued, “I’m on council not because I’m wanting to tell you how to live and to work but I’m trying to make it better for everybody that decisions are made for the next generation then to have a great place to live.”
Both incumbents are leading their respective races in funding. General Seat A Councilwoman Fisk has raised over $30,700 as of March 27. Her competitors, Kemper and Coulter, have received $2,300 and $1,900 in campaign contributions, respectively.
The latest report from Hosmer's campaign shows he's raised $13,400, with challenger Curtis Montgomery showing no financial activity in his report filed in late March.
Jan Fisk: www.voteforjan.org
Jesse Coulter: www.facebook.com/coulterforspringfield
Allen Kemper: www.facebook.com/allen.kemper
Craig Hosmer: www.facebook.com/HosmerforSpringfield
Curtis Montgomery: www.facebook.com/Curtis.Montgomery.Jr