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Monica Horton is sworn in as Zone 1 representative at the start of Springfield City Council’s Monday meeting.
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Monica Horton is sworn in as Zone 1 representative at the start of Springfield City Council’s Monday meeting.

New council member calls her zone ‘heart and soul of Springfield’

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Monica Horton was sworn in as Springfield City Council’s Zone 1 representative at council’s regular meeting last night.

After being sworn in by City Clerk Anita Cotter, Horton signed her oath of office and received a standing ovation from a large audience.

A harmonious first meeting followed for the nine-member body, which had been one member short for nearly two months since the resignation of former Zone 1 representative Angela Romine. Romine plans to run for a state senate seat, and filing her candidacy made her ineligible to keep her council position.

Horton was in on unanimous votes for all five council bills passed during the meeting. Items ranged from zoning changes and Division Street improvements to a resolution accepting guiding principles on equity and inclusion for the city.

She was one of four candidates interviewed for the position during a special meeting April 12. The others were Stephen Sexton, Kathy Hubbard and Karen Banta. A council vote immediately followed the interviews, and Horton was elected with seven votes; Sexton received a lone vote from Councilperson Richard Ollis, and Hubbard and Banta did not receive any votes.

Horton will serve in the Zone 1 seat until April 2023, when a public vote will be held to fill the seat for the remaining two years of its original four-year term.

Background and vision
In her interview, Horton outlined some of her priorities for her council role.

“I have a deeply held belief that Zone 1 is the heart and soul of Springfield – that’s kind of a bias that I have,” she said in her opening remarks of the northwest quadrant of the city.

Horton introduced herself as someone who had spent five years in foster care and was a first-generation college student at Tuskegee University before earning two master’s degrees, one a master’s in music therapy from Florida State University and the other a master’s in public administration from Missouri State University. She is self-employed as the owner of Lenica Consulting Group LLC, which specializes in strategic planning and data analysis. She and her husband Leonard are the parents of a 12-year-old daughter and another daughter, referred to as her “heavenly baby,” who died in 2015.

In addition to her work and family, Horton has been an active volunteer in the community. She is founding board president of Ujima Language and Literacy, board treasurer for the Greene County Senior Citizens’ Services Fund, a board member of Leadership Springfield and a member of the Mayor’s Commission for Children, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Her service on City Council will continue her record of service.

“I would like to join City Council as well as the mayor in recovering from these twin pandemics: COVID-19 as well as the systemic inequities that have become obvious to all of us while we were staying at home, quarantining and working on flattening the curve, and we certainly did a great job of that because of your leadership,” she said.

Horton told council the city has ongoing issues that must be addressed.

“With my passion for service, civic engagement and my professional experience, I believe that we should be able to address those issues together,” she said.

Horton said COVID-19 had harmedsevere impacts on the community.

“We see individuals who have been displaced as a result of losing housing; we see small businesses that are in recovery as the result of the losses that they have had to bear the brunt of in terms of what COVID-19 has done,” she said.

Horton said the mission was clear but the “how” is the difficult part.

“How do you go about unifying a city, unifying as a governing body and enacting common-sense policymaking as well as decision-making that is inclusive as well as common-sense governance?” she said.

Housing shortage
Horton’s interview included a question about the deteriorating and inadequate housing stock in Zone 1, and she came prepared with a statement on nuisance properties.

“We do realize that we’re overstocked with nuisance properties that have lowered property values, and we have an understock of quality safe and affordable housing,” she said. “In my view, renters, landowners and slumlords bear responsibility for what has happened over time with no accountability or regulation.”

Horton pointed out that 59% of the city’s residents are renters, with most of those in Zone 1.

“Renters need better pathways to home ownership,” she said.

Additionally, Horton said, landlords need to do right by their renters. Horton noted she is a rental property owner herself.

“Whenever our tenants – one of whom receives a housing subsidy – whenever they call, we fix things. It’s just the right thing to do,” she said.

Horton said renters need to be educated on what their rights are and what plan of action should be taken when there is an abuse of power by property owners. Additionally, landlords need to be held accountable, she said.

“On the other side of the coin, there are too few housing options,” she said. “In order to deal with the housing crunch, we need roughly 14,000 housing units.”

Horton’s figure apparently comes from a reported Community Partnership of the Ozarks Inc. estimate, which states that the city’s available housing is inadequate by 14,020 households.

Until more housing is available, steps must be taken to prohibit housing discrimination in all forms, she said.

“I think there is still some unfinished business concerning housing discrimination,” she said.

Property owners should take a chance on renters who have been incarcerated or who are in addiction recovery, she said.

Horton also shared her overall vision for Zone 1.

“In short term, I would like to see Zone 1 become an attractive place for growth and development, but not just because of how underdeveloped and blighted the land and the buildings are, or how high the poverty rate is or the crime rate is,” she said, “but because Zone 1 is an inherent promise to the city.”

She said she aims to erase the economic and geographical divide between north and south Springfield. In her vision, Zone 1 will become one of Springfield’s top locations for people to live and work in.

Horton also said she would like to address the issue of inclusivity in the city. She added that 45% of respondents to the city’s 2020 Inclusion Survey viewed Springfield as not very inclusive or not inclusive at all.


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