The city of Springfield has new faces in positions of leadership, and officials plan to add a couple more in the near future.
Springfield City Council voted Oct. 25 to appoint Andrew Lear, a former certified public accountant and partner at BKD LLP, as councilman. He was one of seven finalists interviewed for the General C seat, left open when Councilwoman Kristi Fulnecky moved to Nixa and resigned from the post in September.
Lear was sworn in at the Nov. 5 City Council meeting.
Officials also are in pursuit of filling the city attorney and deputy city manager positions. Cora Scott, the city’s director of public information and civic engagement, said the search efforts should conclude this month.
Two-year City Attorney Frank Romines resigned Sept. 4 after accepting a staff attorney job with the city of Denver, Colorado. Rhonda Lewsader is the interim city attorney.
The deputy city manager’s position has been vacant since December 2017, when Tim Smith retired after three years of service. Scott said Smith worked on a part-time basis after his formal retirement to assist with a customer service project called MyCity, create a safety committee and improve the eCity Initiative development process.
The eCity Initiative software is meant to streamline development reviews, permitting and payments, according to city materials.
At the top of the city’s staff positions, Jason Gage was sworn in as city manager Aug. 1 to succeed Greg Burris, who stepped down to lead the city’s Give 5 senior volunteer program.
First months as manager
Gage spent the last 13 years as city manager of Salina, Kansas, and had previously worked as city manager in De Soto and Stillwater, Oklahoma.
“Cities have the same challenges that show up at different times,” he said. “Sometimes you have to take a different approach in a different environment. It’s not a one size fits all.”
Gage was selected over Wayne Pyle of West Valley City, Utah, on June 1 to be the 13th city manager in Springfield history.
“Every day is filled with a diverse list of tasks for me,” Gage said, adding he has six to 10 meetings a day on such topics as job growth and economic development. “I’m a big fan of doing whatever the local government can reasonably do to help the chamber and the business community. I always like to set the bar high, so we have something to strive for.”
In his first three months, Gage has spent time getting to know the staff and the city, and said he values collaborative partnership.
“I try to be consistent with my personal style by listening,” Gage said. “I like to be able to solve problems, and multiple heads are better than one for that.”
The workload in his office will change once a new deputy city manager is hired.
“We’re able to keep the boat moving forward, but it slows us down on initiatives,” Gage said. “It will balance us out in this office, and we’ll be able to put foot on the gas a bit more.”
Gage said he hasn’t seen any curveballs other than working out some glitches and server issues with a new software program, called Infor.
“It’s intended to help review permits,” Gage said. “It helps reduce trips in and phone calls.”
Part of the eCity Initiative, Infor addresses applications, payments and workflow of local developments.
He said there is a lot of focus on the future, with goals being economic vitality, public safety and fiscal sustainability.
With Stillwater being home to Oklahoma State University, Springfield isn’t the first town Gage has worked in with a college presence.
“Stillwater was truly a university town,” he said. “Springfield is a larger town that has a significant university and college presence. What we have is well balanced. We have great quality colleges and universities is this community, and they have their own niche. I think it adds energy and diversifies the population.”
Other recent hires by the city include Wade Drossel and Ron Petering as assistant directors in the Environmental Services Department to replace Errin Kemper, who was promoted April 1 to department director.
Drossel is a former transmission design engineer for Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative and Petering worked for nearly 30 years at Kansas City-based engineering and construction firm Shafer, Kline & Warren Inc. before returning to the public sector.
Lear was selected over other finalists Amy Champlin of the Citizens Police Academy Alumni group, Kevin Evans of Missouri State University, AJ Exner of Dynamic DNA Labs, Theresa Martin, a community volunteer for Rescue One and the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights, Natalie McGuire of Quintiles Pharmaceutical/Sanofi and Charles Pettijohn, a retired Drury University associate professor.
While Lear received the required five votes from council members, Exner received two votes and Martin got one.
It wasn’t his first attempt to join council. Lear also applied for the Zone 4 vacancy created by Craig Fishel in the spring, and council selected Matthew Simpson of Ozarks Technical Community College.
With Lear now in the council seat, it’s a post he’ll hold only until April, when the seat comes up for re-election.
Lear said his financial background would help with budgeting.
“Council has already laid out their priorities, and fiscal sustainability is one and that’s a big issue,” he said. “The city is primarily funded through sales tax, and sales tax is hard to plan for.”
Before his retirement from BKD in 2014, Lear was active with the Springfield-Greene County Civility Project, the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, the Developmental Center of the Ozarks, Springfield Business Development Corp. and the Ozarks Regional Family YMCA.
“You’ve got to listen to people, and you got to try to understand the issue. And at the end of the day, you got to vote the way you think is best for the city,” Lear said.
Looking down the road to the April 2019 election, Lear said he intends to run again for.
“A five-month appointment is nothing,” he said.
“In five months, I’ll be better than I am today, but I’ll still be learning. I don’t think anybody who put in for the seat would’ve not run – I would hope.”
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