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TAKE ME OUT: Attending the opening day celebration at Hammons Field, home of the Springfield Cardinals, on April 6 were, from left, Cardinals General Manager Dan Reiter and current and former council members Mike Schilling, Craig Hosmer, Mayor Ken McClure, Heather Hardinger, Matthew Simpson, Richard Ollis and Andrew Lear.
Provided by Richard Ollis
TAKE ME OUT: Attending the opening day celebration at Hammons Field, home of the Springfield Cardinals, on April 6 were, from left, Cardinals General Manager Dan Reiter and current and former council members Mike Schilling, Craig Hosmer, Mayor Ken McClure, Heather Hardinger, Matthew Simpson, Richard Ollis and Andrew Lear.

Out of the Park: Departing council members reflect on wins, whiffs and future seasons

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Two days after this month’s election decided the mayor and three council seats, members of Springfield City Council took in a ballgame at Hammons Field.

Three of the members, Andrew Lear, Richard Ollis and Mike Schilling, were in a position to relax and enjoy the festive opening day action, despite the Springfield Cardinals’ 4-1 loss to the Wichita Wind Surge. The trio had been mere observers on April 4 as election results came in; they had opted not to run for reelection, following service in the challenging pandemic years. Mayor Ken McClure may have been feeling celebratory, having won his reelection bid in a close race against challenger Melanie Bach.

It must have felt like a valedictory moment, as the departing council members were seated in a facility that all three had deemed one of the genuine wins of their time in office.

Lear said that from his perspective, having the ballpark lie dormant on the north step of downtown would have been of disastrous consequence and was not an option.

“It was a nice way to have something tangible to end on,” he said.

Schilling also expressed satisfaction in the city’s $16 million purchase agreement.

“When we first started talking about it, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the city getting into the baseball stadium business,” he said.

As time went on, Schilling said, it became clear no one else was going to step in to save the stadium.

“Where are the millionaires? Why aren’t they stepping up?” he asked. “It became clear that if we didn’t and if nobody else did, we would be stuck with a blighted area of town – a baseball park that wasn’t doing anything. It became a civic imperative to take that over and keep it going.”

Ollis saw things similarly.

“Although the city didn’t aspire to own a baseball stadium, the fact that we were able to save the Cardinals franchise and reinvigorate that stadium complex I think will be good for the community,” he said.

Opening night offered one version of quality of life in the city of Springfield, and the departing trio soaked it in.

Buy them some peanuts and Cracker Jack; after their final partial meeting April 17, when three council members will be sworn in, Lear, Ollis and Schilling are not coming back.

The departing members
Schilling, departing Zone 3 representative on City Council, said he has a fairly big yard, and from now on the growing season can keep him busy.

“I’ve served eight years and that’s plenty,” he said.

Also an eight-year member of the Missouri House of Representatives, Schilling was first elected to council in April 2015 and served on the Public Involvement Committee and the Administrative Committee.

The departing General Seat D representative to council, Ollis was first appointed to his seat in May 2017 and then elected to it by voters in 2019. His appointments included the Community Involvement Committee and the Plans and Policies Committee, for which he served as chair.

Ollis, who is CEO of insurance agency Ollis/Akers/Arney, is not disappearing from public service. He helped to establish Restore SGF, a nonprofit organization that focuses on rehabilitating housing in the city’s historic neighborhoods and promoting homeownership, and he will continue his work on its board of directors.

Lear is the departing General Seat C representative. He was appointed to his post in 2018 and then elected to it in 2019. He served on the Finance and Administration Committee and the Plans and Policies Committee, and he was also a member of council’s Review Committee to make recommendations for allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

With his free time, he plans to enjoy travel that he put off over the last few years. A trip to Portugal is coming up this summer.

All three served through the COVID-19 pandemic, which posed unique challenges.

“I almost view it as two different things,” Lear said. “Early on, we were working through normal city things. We started launching the comprehensive plan, which was really exciting – there was a lot of civic energy. It was frustrating when we had to stop and pick it up later.”

On the back end of his council experience was his service on the ARPA committee, which was tasked with allocating about $40 million in federal funds, to be spent by the end of 2026.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done there,” Lear said.

Highlights
Ollis said he considers an overarching win of his time on council that body’s focus on quality of place. That theme informed the $26 million Grant Avenue Parkway project to create a multimodal north-south route from Bass Pro Shops to downtown, as well as the daylighting of Jordan Valley Creek and the planning that is underway at Lake Springfield.

“I’m proud of our efforts, both publicly and privately, to create a quality of place that people want to live, work and raise their family in,” he said.

One of the things Schilling is most excited about from his time in office is that neighborhoods are recognizing their power.

“People are being part of the determination of what neighborhoods are going to look and feel like, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

He said he also enjoyed constituent service – the part of being a council member that happens in quiet, out of the public eye.

“You get a lot of calls and complaints about this, that and the other thing over time – usually something about conditions or what’s going on around somebody’s place,” he said. “That gets you into the physical observation of the zone, which is something I really enjoyed.”

Lear said he felt proud of how the city responded to the historic moment of the murder of George Floyd. Under council direction, police began wearing body cameras, the civilian review board was enlarged and revamped, and new policies on use of force came into being.

“I was proud of the community for that,” he said.

Challenges
The three members offered a look at some challenges and opportunities to be faced by their successors – Callie Carroll in General Seat C, Derek Lee in General Seat D and Brandon Jenson in Zone 3.

“There’s going to be a lot of public money to redevelop areas of town, and that’s going to be transformative,” Lear said.

Adding private money in the right spots will be important, he said.

“When we think of what this town can look like, everyone always points to Bentonville,” Lear said. “We have all the same stuff that they have, but we can do our own thing – we don’t have to be them.”

He added that it will be important to continue to work on the related problems of poverty and homelessness.

Schilling agreed that poverty is holding the city back.

“The poverty rate is about 20%-22%, and that’s not a good number,” he said, adding that roughly 60% of the city’s housing stock is composed of rentals. “We can do things like housing improvement.”

Ollis agreed that the city needs reasonably priced housing alternatives for people moving to the area. Redevelopment is also an important focus, he said.

“My hope is that we’ll come to a point where we’re collaborating on redevelopment – neighborhoods, the business community, developers, the city,” he said. “We need all parties at the table collaborating on those issues.”

It’s important to keep envisioning a positive future, Ollis said.

“If you think about it, that’s when human beings start deteriorating is when they stop dreaming and growing and having purpose,” he said. “It’s important that whatever we come to, we don’t lose that."

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