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City Beat: Council takes next step in Fisk case

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Springfield City Council on Oct. 7 voted unanimously to appoint retired Webster County Associate Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Thompson as the hearing examiner for allegations against Councilwoman Jan Fisk.

The appointment stems from multiple claims by retired litigation paralegal Linda Simkins, who has blown the whistle on Fisk’s potential personal gain in contracts with the city related to her ownership in J. Howard Fisk Limousines Inc. and private interest in Galloway Village blight legislation. Allegations also involve tax payments on properties Fisk owns with her husband and son, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

Before the vote, Fisk read from a statement: “Although I must recuse myself because this resolution is about me, I fully support it and I look forward to resolving this,” she said.

All of Fisk’s colleagues on council signed the request last month to refer the allegations to a hearing examiner. Fisk, who is not seeking re-election in 2020, did sign the initial letter for review given to Mayor Ken McClure before a council meeting in March, when the body started investigating the alleged conflicts of interest, according to past SBJ reporting.

“From the beginning, I have requested a hearing to address the original complaint,” she said in her statement. “This is the procedure that I believe will resolve any remaining issue.”

Thompson is slated to review allegations of misconduct by Fisk regarding personal financial interest statements and possible financial gain in the sale of any services to the city. The city has agreed to pay $225 per hour for his services.

According to city spokeswoman Cora Scott, officials have neither set a budget for the hearing examiner’s expense nor a timeline for the process.

St. Louis attorney Kevin O’Keefe was hired as outside counsel after Springfield City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader and her staff recused themselves. He submitted a memo to the city on Sept. 24 that dismissed some allegations against Fisk – except those related to the nondisclosure of a city contract with Fisk Limousines, resulting in the appointment of Thompson.

“I am pleased with the exonerating conclusions of the attorney that was hired by the council to evaluate the complaints against me because they showed there was no basis for any of the allegations,” Fisk said in her statement.

Thompson cannot directly remove Fisk but will make a recommendation to council, Scott said via email.

A public hearing was not opened before the Oct. 7 vote to appoint Thompson, causing council to circle back to reopen and revote on the resolution later in the meeting. There were no speakers during the public hearing.

Additionally, Fisk called for an update to city charter.

“Our city charter hasn’t been updated in decades and needs to be reviewed and updated to reflect the 21st century,” she said in her statement. “We need clarification in the meantime so what I’ve gone through doesn’t happen to my fellow colleagues on council or any employee of the city of Springfield.”

Baptist Student Union
Council considered rezoning two properties at National Avenue and Page Street to make way for a $10 million mixed-use development by the Missouri General Baptist Association.

According to city documents, the development proposal at 852 and 906 S. National Ave. across from Missouri State University and 1224 and 1234 E. Page St. in the Rountree neighborhood, calls for multifamily residential, a new Baptist Student Union and commercial space. The applicants would tear down the existing Baptist Student Union, at 906 S. National Ave.

They plan to build a five-story, 70,000-80,000-square-foot structure with 65 microefficiency units and 17 two-bedroom apartments. A project rendering by Hood Rich Inc. shows two mixed-use buildings connected by a glass walkway on multiple levels overlooking a courtyard.

The development is designed with 1,500 square feet of restaurant space and 1,550 square feet of retail space, along with an on-site volleyball court. It features a proposed pedestrian walkway over National Avenue to the MSU campus, said Billy Kimmons, principal architect at Hood-Rich, who represented the applicant at the meeting.

The plans include developing National Avenue as a public transport corridor to improve walkability and pedestrian safety, and closing off driveway access from the street to the 2.2-acre property, Kimmons said.

Parking in the proposed project area would increase to 125, Kimmons said, from the existing 117 spaces.

Hood-Rich officials have held a meeting with the Rountree Neighborhood Association representatives to get feedback.

“While I can’t offer a formal letter of endorsement from the Rountree Neighborhood Association, I would say we have their general support,” Kimmons said.

Reached after the meeting, Rountree association Chairwoman Laurel Bryant said the development plan provides opportunity for public meeting space and a farmers market.

“We recognize that it does comply with the new Rountree plan and are hopeful the BSU will service the neighborhood, not just the students,” she said. “We see creative spirit bringing about services we can all use.”

Bryant said one concern in the pedestrian-oriented neighborhood is a growing number of student housing and traffic volume.

Council is scheduled to vote on the rezoning request Oct. 21. Baptist officials have previously targeted a mid-2021 completion, with council approval.

Stormwater grant
Kirkland Preston, a stormwater engineer in the city’s Public Works Department, presented a grant proposal for a stormwater improvement project.

Council unanimously agreed to apply for a $175,637 grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for construction of the Stormwater Improvement Project on Fassnight Creek at the Springfield Art Museum.

“If awarded, the city would need to provide a 50% match for these funds,” Preston told council.

Planned improvements include the removal of an impervious concrete channel that runs south of the museum building from National to Kings avenues. According to the grant application, plants native to Missouri would be positioned along the 1,000-linear-foot channel for aesthetic and water quality purposes.

“The concrete would be removed and the cross-section would be widened,” he said. “The objectives of the project are to modify the channel for flood control and naturalize the channel for urban habitat and water quality benefits.”

The project is part of the museum’s $19 million, 30-year master plan. The stormwater project cost is around $1.8 million, Preston said.

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