Like I said in my FB video the other day, we’re all facing the frustrating reality of having four of six council seats go uncontested. What happened with the petition verification process that resulted in Larry Flenoid being un-certified is a symptom of a larger problem. I don’t know what happened behind closed doors in city offices over a holiday weekend, but if the City of Springfield wants residents to trust the system, it would be a great idea not to do things in a way that looks suspicious and manipulative.
But it goes beyond that.
Richard Ollis is defending a seat he was appointed to, and now (conveniently) doesn’t have an opposing candidate running against him.
(Side note: I also applied for that vacancy. I wasn’t called for an interview. My rejection letter was addressed to “Jake”.)
Abe McGull has been quoted saying that he was specifically asked to run by current members of council. He is also running unopposed.
Matthew Simpson was appointed to council as well. He now also runs unopposed.
Regardless of the outcome of the elections in April, nearly half the members of council will have been selected by other members of council without city residents having given any input into those choices.
That is not representation.
It doesn’t matter if you like these candidates or not. The system is clearly broken.
It should also be noted that both Ferguson and Prater were originally appointed to their seats as well, though they both won re-election in 2017 in what was more a rejection of Fulnecky/Montgomery than an affirmation of the candidates who won.
It clearly pays to be appointed to council – and we all know that not just anyone stands a chance of getting appointed to anything. Remember how current council was so pleased to see so much diversity in the applicant pool for Seat C, but then appointed Andrew Lear – yet another wealthy, influential, white businessman? They don’t appoint people who might rock the boat or disagree too much. Why would they?
And it’s downright infuriating how often council seats seem to come open, allowing council to hand-pick their cohorts rather than allow the citizens to choose.
So, what do we do now?
- Get to the polls in April and vote in the two races where we do have a choice. Make it clear that we don’t want the status quo. We don’t want to be represented by elected officials who feel that such a system is okay. Ask candidates if they will support an overhaul of the process not just for electing and appointing council members, but also city commissions (which advise council and are filled by appointment with the direction of, yes, city council).
(Additional side note: I’ve TWICE applied to be considered for numerous openings to city commissions, and have never once gotten as much a an acknowledgment or rejection letter. I had no idea how commissioners were selected until I talked to people who’ve served. The brokenness of the system goes far beyond council.)
Council should not be making appointments to council or to commissions which report to and advise council. Representative government should be representative government. If an elected official can’t or won’t serve out their term, the people should choose their replacement. The system as it stands is just a revolving door of appointed council members appointing new council members, with complete power to simply ignore applications for whatever reason they want.
- Make your voices heard. Loud and often. When things happen in the state legislature or in Congress that we don’t like, we call and write and fax and email to make sure they hear us. Yes, it’s easier to reach them because they’ve got offices and staff and we have tools like Resistbot. But City Council is local. If you want change, they all have official emails and phone numbers. Anyone can address council at the biweekly meetings. Write letters to the editor. Frankly, I’d love to see a committee form to gather signatures to get the issue on a ballot and make changing the system a grassroots campaign.
- There will be another election in two years. Prepare to run.
Bottom line: We are not powerless. This is important. We should be able to choose our representation.
I’ve got a lot of concerns for Springfield: poverty, equity, etc. But as this campaign moves forward, the basic issue of representation and transparency in city government is emerging as the biggest fire in need of attention. The future of Springfield depends on putting the power back in the hands of the people.