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Cityscape: The importance of speaking up

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I heard … The value of paying attention

I had the pleasure of interviewing Rob Fulp, a lifelong local banker and recently named regional managing director of Great Southern Bank, for an Executive Insider feature in the June 26 issue.

Fulp will tell anyone that he is where he is because of a mentor, the late residential developer, professor and Springfield City Councilmember Ralph Manley. When Fulp dropped out of college as a first-year student because of academic and financial struggles, Professor Manley came to the Fulp family farm and talked to his parents to convince them to send him back. He even handed over a check sufficient to pay for four years of college.

While his dad refused to accept the check, Fulp remembered his words: “If you can get Rob back in college, we’ll find a way to sell another cow and a calf.”

Fulp also remembers Manley’s example, and he says it’s one he tries to emulate every day.

“We all need someone to help us,” he told me. “He came to me – he paid attention – and now I’m constantly paying attention and trying to give back my time or resources or bring others to the table. It will all work out if you can just pay attention to the people around you.”

The importance of speaking up

I did a little math and determined that during my journalism career, I’ve spent six solid months covering meetings – and that’s a conservative estimate.

Through discipline, I don’t have much trouble remaining objective about the topics under discussion. Very few City Council bills have to do with cats or poetry. But I have pretty strong opinions about participation by elected officials.

People who are elected to represent constituents should speak up.

The June 26 Springfield City Council meeting featured a robust discussion about a transportation project agreement proposed for the Southern Hills Shopping Center. That agreement allows a 1-cent retail sales tax to be applied by shopping center businesses for up to 40 years to pay for improvements such as stormwater collection, parking lots, signage and landscaping.

It was a fairly routine business item – a tax incentive recommended by city staff to enhance economic vitality in a high-traffic corridor – and it passed by a 5-3 vote. However, two council members spoke up at the meeting and voiced their objections to a tax agreement that would apply to more than 95% private property and that one member didn’t see as fitting the transportation goal of the incentive program – though, in fairness, a parking lot is a part of the transportation infrastructure.

For a connoisseur of meetings, it was a pleasure to watch the rookie, Councilmember Brandon Jenson, as he quarterbacked the argument, noting the public benefit of the project was not insufficient and that a developer of a new shopping center would have to bear similar costs themselves. What’s more, the state statute that allows for the development would transfer ownership of the project to the city as taxing authority.

Jenson was very forthright in his critique, labeling the project as “legally dubious.”

That’s when veteran Councilmember Craig Hosmer took the ball and ran with it. His position was that the city was bending over backwards to give taxpayer dollars to developers, and that council has a choice in whether or not it should approve projects.

Jenson and Hosmer had very different argumentation styles, with Jenson presenting careful and concise questions that culminated in a passionate summation, while Hosmer, the former state legislator, covered a panoply of objections with a spirited conversational flow.

For me, the topic of the discussion was less interesting than the fact that elected representatives were passionately debating a piece of legislation. Some representatives seldom speak up, and their only input is their vote.

Another councilmember, Derek Lee, was absent, but I have been impressed by his candor in sessions, and by his willingness to be interviewed and provide more insight into his views. Lee’s thinking is shaped by his experience as a professional engineer who is involved in development and is willing to vouch for that community.

Members of council should come to the table to do more than sit. I like an elected representative who has something to say, and it looks like the present incarnation of council, with a few exceptions, is willing to use their voices.

I’m eager to hear more.

Serving together

As part of the United Way Day of Caring on June 22, 10 of my SBJ colleagues and I showed up at Council of Churches of the Ozarks to spend a few hours preparing diapers for distribution. Around the table from left, here’s publisher Jennifer Jackson, business strategist Julie Divine, executive editor Christine Temple, business strategist Danielle King (that’s the top of her head, anyway) and account manager Angel Frias.

Two years and running

Looks like I just celebrated my second anniversary at Springfield Business Journal (with appreciation to LinkedIn for keeping track of these things!).

Business reporting was a surprising turn for me. My background is in the arts – I have a master’s in creative writing, specifically, though I also have a bachelor’s in English and journalism and worked as a reporter for decades. I’ve devoted most of my life to writing and studying poetry. I don’t have a business background, unless a subscription to The Economist counts. I have spent time as an independent contractor within the gig economy, doing things like copy editing and ghostwriting. I’m no businessperson, though; I didn’t like drumming up work for myself. Writing is what I enjoy, so I’m thrilled to have someone else figure out how to pay me to do it.

The surprising benefit from my two years at SBJ is the deeper insight I’ve gained from talking to people across the business spectrum.

I say this frequently, but it bears repeating: Business is manifestation. I stand in awe of anyone who has a great idea, shapes it into a plan, assembles all the necessary components and then embarks on the journey.

Even a business that fails is the manifestation of an inner spark. The idea may lead to multiple factories and revenue in the 10 figures, or it may lead to a box of business cards and a personal computer, with a cottage operation that’s only large enough to keep the pantry full.

I’m in awe of businesses, large and small. That spark that begins in the mind and manifests in the world is a lot like the genesis of a poem – an artifact that I try to buff into the fullest form of expression of truth and beauty.

The act of creation may well be what we are here to do.

Contact Karen Craigo
Phone: 417-340-3224
Email: kcraigo@sbj.net
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