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City Beat: Council affirms support for LGBTQ+ Springfieldians

Ozarks Pridefest a sticking point in lone dissenting vote

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Springfield City Council passed a resolution of support for the city’s LGBTQ+ community at its June 5 meeting.

By a vote of 8-1, council affirmed its commitment to apply the city’s equity and equality efforts to the LGBTQ+ population. The resolution also promised collaboration with the LGBTQ+ community to improve the culture of inclusion and belonging in Springfield.

A robust public hearing featured 15 speakers, 10 of them in support of the resolution and five opposing.

In remarks following the public hearing, Councilmember Brandon Jenson said members of the LGBTQ+ community are important to Springfield.

“As an openly gay man, I hope that I may serve as an example, albeit an imperfect one, that if you work hard in this city, you can achieve great things,” he said. “Despite the opposition our community faces, please know that your contributions across every sector of our economy are invaluable to the city of Springfield.”

Jenson added he recognizes everyone who spoke at the hearing has love for Springfield and wants to make sure that it remains a clean and friendly place to raise a family, and he urged them to find aways to contribute to uniting the city, perhaps by volunteering.

“Chances are there will be an LGBTQ+ person working right alongside you to make our city a better place for all,” he said.

He added that the LGBTQ+ community has experienced discrimination and harassment, including the murder of two transgender people and a string of assaults downtown against that community in the summer of 2021.

Jenson said diversity is identified as a strength in the city’s comprehensive plan and is something to be celebrated, and that council’s job is to unify and protect all residents.

Councilmember Derek Lee offered the sole dissenting vote while pointing to a portion of the resolution recognizing Ozarks Pridefest as a celebration of the community’s diversity. Pridefest, an annual festival set this year for June 10 on the downtown square, includes a pride parade and a stage schedule featuring the Men’s Chorus of the Ozarks and drag performances, and its headliner is local drag entertainer Crystal Methyd.

The event also includes educational booths, most of which are paid for by exhibitors. The city paid $500 to reserve booths for its Health Department and its Human Resources Department, and the Springfield-Greene County Library has a free booth in front of its Park Central Square location, according to a city spokesperson.

The resolution states, “Pridefest provides Springfieldians the opportunity to celebrate the rich diversity that exists in our community.”

Lee said many people in Springfield don’t want their children to be exposed to drag shows.

“Many parents in Springfield consider the content of Pridefest as adult-oriented and should not be celebrated by this body in the public square,” Lee said.

He added that other members of council may look at anything other than full support as a vote against the LGBTQ+ community.

“I wholeheartedly acknowledge the contributions of the LGBT+ community as well as every other community in Springfield,” Lee said. “I wholeheartedly want to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community as well as every other community in Springfield. I wholeheartedly denounce discrimination that would make it difficult for our LGBTQ+ Springfieldians to secure housing, employment, health care, safety.”

But including Pridefest in the bill remained his sticking point.

“How do we celebrate it while separating that celebration as a resolution from drag shows, provocative men’s choruses and the performer Crystal Methyd?” he said. “I don’t see how this bill represents Springfield as a whole, and I don’t see how I can support it.”

Councilmember Abe McGull said government must provide equal opportunity for all citizens.

“If you turn the spigot on, you want the water to flow,” he said.

McGull concluded, “I’m anti-discrimination in any form. That’s my two cents about government.”

Mayor Ken McClure said he struggled with the vote, though he believes everyone should be treated with dignity, respect and grace.

McClure said he believes God created everyone in his image and loves everyone.

“Because this is my deeply held belief, it is incredibly important to me to treat every person honorably, all the time,” he said.

McClure said council should focus on providing city services without discrimination. He noted he would have preferred a resolution that simply stated Springfield is a welcoming city without regard to race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or political affiliation, and he added that there is “a very real lack of clarity as to the end game” that caused him concern.

“My strong preference is that city council stay out of social issues,” he said. “There are generally very few winners and frequently many losers.”

Despite his concerns, McClure voted with the majority in favor of the resolution.

Half-billion budget passes
Council unanimously passed an operating budget of nearly a half-billion dollars beginning July 1 through June 30, 2024. The $496 million budget bill represents an increase of 11.4% or $51 million over the current fiscal year.

The vote was unanimous to pass the largest budget in the city’s history. City Manager Jason Gage submitted the budget to council on April 28.

Council also passed an ordinance setting the preliminary tax levy on real and personal property for the city’s current expenses and debt retirement for fiscal 2024.

The levy is at a level of 62 cents per $100 assessed valuation, though it may be adjusted by the Missouri state auditor in August. That breaks down to nearly 27 cents for municipal purposes, 19 cents for parks, 13 cents for public health service and 4 cents for the Springfield Art Museum.

Springfield Underground rezoning
A rezoning measure proposed for 402 acres owned by Springfield Underground Inc. would allow 48 of those acres to be used for marijuana cultivation, dispensary facilities and infused product manufacturing.

The property is located at East Division Street and North LeCompte Road on the surface of the underground warehousing and logistics center.

Another portion of the property would be dedicated to commercial uses, such as offices, banks, entertainment-oriented uses and commercial outdoor recreation. A third area would add multifamily development with up to 11 dwelling units per acre.

The measure would update roadway design standards and alignments to correspond with work on LeCompte Road and Eastgate Avenue, being paid for through state and federal grants.

Other action items

  • Council will vote at its June 26 meeting on the Boyd School redevelopment plan with a declaration of blight for the former school’s 1.5-acre property and the authorization of a 25-year real property tax abatement to support the development by Matt Blevins of Boyd School Redevelopment Corp. City staff notes the development passes the “but for” test, which means the project would not occur at its scale or be financially stable but for receiving the tax abatement.
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield Inc. is requesting a zoning change for its planned Grant Avenue Parkway District teen center, to be voted on June 26. The request would allow the center to be two stories instead of three, as required in the district’s corridor plan for the section where the center is proposed. Specifically, the change would allow a new building to be a minimum of either three stories or 35 feet in height. Additionally, the plan as written does not currently allow a community center, and the proposed amendment would include that among permitted uses, as recommended by staff.

Councilmember Lee noted three projects have been proposed for the parkway, and two of those – the teen center and the Loose Goose activity center – require changes to the corridor plan the city paid consultants to develop.

“I just wanted to make the simple point that we’ve had three developments, and two out of three did not follow the form,” he said.

  • The Art Museum received a $2.8 million American Rescue Plan Act grant to support its renovation and expansion. The grant, offered through the state’s Department of Economic Development, is part of $30 million dedicated to local tourism asset development.

Council also accepted $175,000 in State Homeland Security Grant Program funding to buy an emergency response vehicle for the fire department.

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