Who is listening?
Springfield’s mayor addresses his top priorities and makes promises to open a dialogue with the BIPOC community.
Since January, Sean VanGordon has been Springfield’s interim mayor following a tumultuous few months after Christine Lundberg stepped down from the position in August 2020.
During his first six months as mayor, VanGordon has recognized many different issues within Springfield. On June 6, VanGordon held a virtual visit and answered many of the public’s questions.
First, Vonnie Mikkelsen, CEO and President of Springfield’s Chamber of Commerce, asked what the mayor’s top economic development investment priorities are.
VanGordon responded by acknowledging he has a large list, but says, “I actually think there’s three big investment priorities we have to make as a city.”
The first issue he raised is finding a direction for the Glenwood area. He stated his confidence that the city is more prepared for this advancement, and that — with a private investment — the Glenwood area will be primed for development.
As for the second issue, he talked about the workforce, or rather, the lack thereof. Finding ways to connect young adults graduating high school with the appropriate school or trade to help them find “good paying jobs” is among the mayor’s top priorities.
“Cities run on good infrastructure,” he said, rounding out his top three priorities. “When we invest in things like fiber, roads, sewers, it makes the community simply run better.”
As the meeting progressed, it became apparent the residents of Springfield have different priorities.
“We don’t want to live in a city where political violence is welcome, or white supremacy is welcome,” VanGordon said after being asked about what is being done to restore the BIPOC Community’s faith in the city of Springfield.
VanGordon first acknowledged Springfield’s issue with white supremacy during his first address to the city as mayor in January. He went on to say from a policy perspective that he wants to create a discourse with the BIPOC community and encouraged residents to contact his office.
“We are in the middle of this conversation, not the end of it. The most important thing you can do is not listen to respond, but listen to hear.” VanGordon Said.
Though listening to the residents is something VanGordon aspires to do more, one Springfield resident has found it extremely difficult to be heard.
Mary Bell has sent many emails to both city council and the mayor’s office. In her emails, Bell brings up a large number of issues addressing the lack of accountability of the city’s law enforcement.
The Springfield Police Department, white supremacy, and the suspicious timing of Chief Richard Lewis’ retirement while he was placed on leave have been her main concerns.
Bell began writing letters to city council on March 31. It wasn’t until she sent another email on June 8 that she finally received a response from Councilor Kori Rodley which states:
“From your note, I hear that you do not find the efforts so far (replacing the police chief, working to create accountability and tackling systemic issues) to be satisfactory and I agree that we are in the beginning of addressing this huge challenge as unified council and staff. It is likely to move slower than any of us would like as it took decades to build our current department. I, however, remain committed and focused and it is not something I will be able to do on my own. Fortunately, I have found my colleagues to be as focused and committed and no one is content with things remaining status quo.”Councilor Kori Rodley’s email.
The mayor’s virtual visit was held 12 days after the counselor’s response.
The very next day, on June 23, an anti-mask rally was held in front of Springfield City Hall and in front of the Springfield School District Administration Building There, DSM Managing Editor James Croxton had his life threatened by members of the anti-mask crowd.