Candidates for Springfield’s General Seat A are hoping to take one of the five seats on the council, including the mayor, representing the entire city.
Two newcomers are challenging incumbent Craig Hosmer.
The News-Leader interviewed all the candidates about why they’re running, which issues are important to them and where they stand on various problems facing the city.
Here’s what they said in the order they will appear on the ballot:
J. Michael Hasty
J. Michael Hasty, 34, is a disabled veteran who served in Iraq and does security consulting and private contracting in Springfield.
The father of four said he decided to run for office because he worried about crime in the city and was frustrated with the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and zoning issues.
Hasty said his biggest focus if elected will be crime, which caught his attention in 2014 when Haley Owens was abducted from near her house, sexually assaulted and murdered.
“That hit very close to home,” he said.
Hasty said in 2007 and 2008, he went to Iraq to help rebuild the country and gained some insights into how agencies can connect with the community and use their trust to make it safer.
He said he wanted to address a recruiting shortage of police officers by making starting wages more competitive and finding ways to ease burdens on recruiting, including a recent change to allow tattooed officers.
And while he was glad officers were assigned to geographic areas throughout the city, he suggested requiring them to patrol the same area for a longer period of time so they could really build connections with people in the neighborhoods.
Hasty also did not agree with spending $430,000 on a ShotSpotter system, which is intended to track gun shots in a three-mile radius and call police using machine learning technology, because he said that money could be spent better elsewhere.
But he said he did support investing in the system to make sure people who have committed violent crimes like domestic violence stayed in jail or prison.
And he also wanted to make sure the city did a better job of addressing homelessness — something he had firsthand experience with when he was homeless for a few months when he was 18.
“I was very fortunate my foster mother said, ‘You can come back home, but there will be rules,’” he said. “I was not allowed to drink or smoke, I had to get a job and I had that structure to put in place, and now I am where I am today.”
Hasty applauded local nonprofits for their work providing shelter and meals to people, but said those are “Band-Aids” that don’t help people get back on their feet long-term.
“Some of these people fall on hard times, and we need to work on that,” he said. “If we can get people off the streets … (we can) put people back in work, help them earn a living and take care of their community again. It benefits everybody in the end.”
Hasty disagreed with the city’s approach to the pandemic, something he called a “one-size-fits-all” solution that disproportionately impacted the area’s small businesses.
He said he was happy to see the city outline specific metrics for reopening the community. But, he added, he felt like decisions to shut down many businesses deemed “non-essential” in the spring were made without a lot of explanation or transparency.
“Any job or business that provides a living for someone is an essential job, in my opinion,” he said. “If it provides an income to a person, it’s essential to that person.”
The decision to allow some businesses, like grocery stores and big general retailers, to stay open with limited capacity while shutting down some local stores that sold the same goods was “subjective” and arbitrary, Hasty said.
He also acknowledged he’s been outspoken against masking requirements, though he said he supported businesses who wanted to mandate it themselves.
“If a business wants you to wear one, respect the business,” he said. “I also believe that if a person wants to wear a mask, I will not take that off your face. I just don’t believe the government needed to (require) it.”
While he’s a “firm believer in property rights,” Hasty said each neighborhood in Springfield has different needs when it comes to zoning.
Hasty said he disagreed with the council’s decision to approve the re-zoning of a plot of land across from Sequiota Park to make way for a mixed-use development with 100 apartment units.
“Development and progress moving forward is great, but it has to fit the neighborhood,” he said. “The (corner of Cherry and Pickwick in Rountree) is a great example. The residents love it, it fits.”
He said he wanted to encourage developers to really listen to residents and find compromise.
To address chronic nuisance properties due to trash, weed growth or dangerous, deteriorating buildings, Hasty suggested an approach that heavily relies on neighborhoods.
He said he supported enforcement of existing nuisance ordinances and allocating money to take care of dangerous buildings.
But he also suggested the city host neighborhood cleanups every year to get rid of trash and give people a chance to connect.
“We need neighborhood associations in every corner of the city,” he said.
Diversity and inclusion
Hasty said based on his discussions with friends who are transgender, Black or in interracial relationships, there’s no doubt that there’s racism in Springfield.
He said it’s not “running rampant, it’s not wildfire, but we need to address it.”
“It’s always going to be there, whether it’s in secret, whether it’s in public, and we have to make sure that we stand up for everyone that chooses to call our city home,” he said.
Brent Brown, 48, was born and raised in Springfield where his family ran grocery stores for more than 50 years.
He said after being in the grocery business himself, he shifted in recent years to real estate with Greenway Development Group, which has built apartments like BoomerTown near the Missouri State University campus, the Galloway Creek development in Galloway and the Greenway Studios apartments near Drury University and Ozarks Technical Community College.
“I’m running because I’m from and care about this community, but I also (wanted to run) because of the experience I have in business,” he said.
Zoning and development
As someone who has built the type of large-scale apartment developments that can bring opposition from neighbors, Brown said he knows firsthand what it takes to make sure all parties feel heard.
He said when he built the BoomerTown development near Rountree, he asked for neighbors’ input even before a city-required neighborhood meeting to discuss the project.
In response to their requests, he reduced the scale and added a mixed-use element with a coffee shop.
Then, when he was building new apartments near Silver Springs Park at the site of Timmons Temple, one of Springfield’s most notable historic Black churches, he delayed his project by more than a year and paid half the price to pick the church up and move it into the park.
“Those are the types of things developers need to consider if they want to work in this community,” he said. “It is really important that we have progress and that economic development is appropriate, but (we also need to work with the community).”
Brown said the key to addressing nuisance properties in Springfield was to make sure that regulations were applied consistently across the city and to promote home ownership.
“I’m not in favor of ongoing regulation, but I am also not in favor of not taking care of residents,” he said. “I think it has to be a discussion and wherever we land, everybody has to know what’s expected.”
He said landlords bear responsibility for keeping properties in good shape and provide safe housing for tenants.
But to solve the problem long-term, he said it would be necessary to promote home ownership in the city, perhaps in part through encouraging single-family home landlords to allow tenants to enter into a lease-to-own agreement.
To address crime in Springfield’s neighborhoods, Brown said the city needed to take care of its law enforcement officers.
He said difficulty recruiting officers may be solved by allocating more money into starting salaries to make sure officers are paid market rates.
“We have to get people interested in law enforcement,” he said.
That won’t be the only solution, though.
Brown said when the economy is better, crime goes down, so “overall economic development can cure a lot of those ills.”
Diversity and inclusion
Brown said it was “absolutely” the city’s responsibility to address any problem in the city, including promoting equity and inclusion.
“I think we as council, if I am elected, would need to be involved in those discussions and keep an open mind to make sure people feel safe and feel like it’s a place they can and want to live,” he said.
Brown said while he felt the city “did what they felt was necessary to keep the community safe and the citizens healthy,” he was anxious to see Springfield lift occupancy restrictions on small businesses.
He said he knew from experience that running a small business is difficult even with 100 percent occupancy, so loosening that 50 percent figure would go a long way to helping.
“I think COVID has been a moving target, but I think now with these numbers we’ve been seeing, we can start to feel good about lifting these restrictions,” he said. “I hope we get to a place sooner rather than later that we can do that.”
To help bring in more money and help the local economy recover, Brown suggested the city look at annexing some of the properties and places on the fringes of Springfield city limits.
He said many of those residents work in the city and their kids attend schools here, so they should have more of a voice in the process.
“Annexation is something we need to take a calculated approach,” he said. “What does that look like for revenue, and how can we allocate that moving forward?”
Craig Hosmer, incumbent
Incumbent Craig Hosmer, 62, is a local attorney who has been on council since 2013. Before that, he served in the Missouri legislature representing the 138th House district from 1990-2002.
Hosmer said he’s running for another term on council because he wants to continue to be a voice for neighborhoods and “regular people.”
As the person who serves as one of the few dissenting voice on several issues, Hosmer said he wants to make sure council isn’t always a “rubber stamp” for various interests.
“I hope people don’t want a council that’s a … 9-0 vote every time,” he said. “I came out of the legislative process, and I learned very early on that debate is not necessarily bad. I think when we have debates on council, it makes for better public policy.”
Zoning and development
Hosmer often finds himself in the minority on zoning issues.
When council approved the re-zoning of the property in Galloway, Hosmer’s was the lone vote against it.
Then, when the Galloway neighbors submitted a petition asking council to either immediately reverse its decision or put it up to voters, Hosmer was one of two people who voted to make the change without calling an election.
He said he encouraged development because it helps bring jobs to Springfield, but zoning changes needed to be done with more consideration for the existing area.
“If people have bought their property thinking (a nearby plot of land) is single-family residential, I think you should have to make a stronger case for change,” he said. “The city should have a master plan that says, ‘This is how future development should go’ instead of making spot changes.”
He also added those changes should fit within the scale and character of the neighborhoods and be guided by working with those neighbors.
“Galloway is a good example,” he said. “Some of those people have lived there through 40, 50 years. They’ve created it what it is, and now that it’s attractive, the city incentivizes people to come in and do a development … that looks like the same thing they’d build anywhere else.”
“If neighbors had more voice on council and through that process, I think you would encourage developers to at least make some concessions to fit the neighborhood better,” Hosmer added.
Hosmer said he favors having enough staff to do “primary enforcement” for property nuisances instead of waiting for neighbors to call in a complaint.
He said he doesn’t want the penalties to be overly-punitive, but the city needed to take a more proactive stance to make sure neighborhoods don’t have problem, chronic nuisance properties.
“It diminishes the value of property and causes people to want to move away from neighborhoods,” he said.
Hosmer said the city has become “the hole in the donut” with surrounding communities growing and Springfield staying the same.
To fix that, he said the city needed to make sure neighborhoods were “livable, safe and clean as possible.”
Springfield has dozens of police openings at any given time, and Hosmer said he’d propose fixing it by giving an incentive for officers to stay on past the 20 or 25 years they work on the force.
“When they retire, an officer is 45 or 50 years old,” he said. “In my mind, that’s their peak as an officer. You should put those experienced officers on the street.”
In addition to that manpower, he said he supported expanding the use of technology to help officers do their jobs and changing policies to broaden the number of felonies for which the department collects DNA, potentially flagging chronic offenders.
“You’re never going to win the battle against crime if you don’t use technology,” he said. “You also have to have consequences for bad actions by getting people’s attention, not necessarily just with jail or a fine.”
Diversity and inclusion
Hosmer said it’s council’s “obligation” to promote diversity and inclusion.
He noted the city was currently in the process of hiring a diversity and inclusion director to focus on making city staff, police and the fire department look more like Springfield’s demographics.
But beyond that, he said it was important to work to change the culture.
“Springfield should be a very diverse and tolerant community, and in general I think people are,” he said. “But whether it’s perception or reality, we need to make Springfield more tolerant, more diverse. Those are going to be the communities of the future.”
Hosmer said he felt the city handled the COVID-19 pandemic well, noting they listened to experts and available science when making decisions.
The only thing he would’ve changed, he said, was to encourage working together better with neighboring communities to encourage them to take precautions to slow the spread of the virus, too.
As for economic recovery, Hosmer noted the city had allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal CARES Act money to area businesses and nonprofits for recovery and would look for ways to use future grants and opportunities to help in that effort, too.
Katie Kull covers local government for the News-Leader. Got a story to tell? Give her a call at 417-408-1025 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also support local journalism at News-Leader.com/subscribe.