For Bob Stephens, the only surprise around Jim O’Neal’s resignation as mayor was the timing. Stephens, Springfield’s mayor pro tem who officially succeeded O’Neal on May 8, said he was participating in more public appearances in recent months because O’Neal was preoccupied with business and personal issues. As mayor, Stephens said he plans to help fill his vacant council seat, support a move to modify the city charter to make it harder to drive initiative petitions, and continue the work O’Neal had done to make city government more transparent and more business friendly.  

Q: Were you prepared for O’Neal’s resignation?
A: Mr. O’Neal had talked to me about a week and a half prior and said it was a distinct possibility. I hadn’t talked to him prior to the council meeting Monday night … so I didn’t know he planned to do it that evening, but as soon as he started speaking, I knew what was coming.

Q: What are your goals in the position?
A: One of the things we need to focus on is economic development – getting more and better jobs into Springfield. One of the long-range things we need to look at is water supply. We’ve got parts of the state that are beginning to wonder about future water supply, especially in areas where there is fairly rapid population growth.

Q: What can the city do to encourage economic development?
A: There are a number of things we can do, starting off with letting the world know we are open for business. (We can) get some of our antiquated ordinances off the books. One thing that comes to mind: When Matt O’Reilly was looking to build Green Circle on Republic Road, he was trying to do some very creative things in terms of building green, but our city ordinances had not kept up with the technology, and so, we need to bring some of our ordinances forward.

Q: With the city charter currently requiring 10 percent of registered voters from the previous election, do you support a more stringent initiative petition process?
A: I do. If you look at the voter turnout in 1957 or 1958, you had anywhere from 40 percent to 50 percent voter turnout in every election. Now, we have anywhere from 2 percent to 20 percent. When they wrote the charter, the number of petitions needed for an initiative petition was based on the number of votes cast in the previous (municipal) election. Well, if you’ve got 50 percent of 80,000 people turning out to vote, then 4,000 signatures would be required to sign an initiative petition. When there are only 10,000 people voting, you’ve got an opportunity for a lot of what I call fringe issues coming forward. I’m not saying that the smoking ban or E-Verify fall into that category, but you are certainly in danger of that occurring.

Q: Should the E-Verify ordinance have been passed and then cleaned up to prevent the lawsuit the city is facing?
A: Once a petition has been certified as having a certain number of signatures, council cannot change the wording of that petition. The only way to change it is to wait a six-month period and then get a unanimous vote of City Council. … We either had to accept what we knew was flawed or send it to voters. The reason (approval) was not an option among council members was that (certain members did not) want to be on record as having approved such a flawed ordinance.

Q: What can you and council do to promote development?
A: If you take a look right now at the state economy, it is southwest Missouri that is driving the state. Even though we are traditionally known as a Republican area, I think that’s why we see Gov. Jay Nixon down here a lot talking about economic development issues. We’ll continue to promote that activity. … We are (implementing) a type of software where architects can actually send in plans online … so architects don’t have to hop in their trucks and come down.