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Springfield voters to decide mayoral term, city code of ethics

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Springfield voters will consider doubling the length of the mayor’s term and revising the city’s code of ethics in the April 2 general municipal election.

Both measures, placed on the ballot by vote of Springfield City Council, would amend the city’s charter.

Question 1 seeks to update the city’s code of ethics for its employees and allow disciplinary action for ethics violations. If the measure passes, city employees would be granted a legal defense and due process if ethics violations occur, and safe harbor provisions if they were acting in good faith on a prior written advisory opinion from the city attorney.

Certain ethics requirements currently exist in the code for city employees, elected officials, appointed officers and board members, but language allows only for automatic termination of city employees with an ethics violation. The revision would allow a review process culminating in a range of disciplinary actions up to and including termination.

Current code requires that elected officials, appointed officers and board members forfeit their position for a violation of the code of ethics, and that would not be changed with the revision that applies to employees.

The section of code restricts employees, elected officials, appointed officers and board members from having a financial interest in a contract with the city or in the sale to the city of land, materials, supplies or services except on behalf of the city as an officer or employee.

In a January Springfield Business Journal interview with City Attorney Jordan Paul, he said the idea of changing the code of ethics has been floating around for two years.

He said council is not required in the current city code to have a code of ethics, though it has adopted one.

“What the amendment does is first it says this is required; now you have to adopt a code of ethics and you have to look at it at least every other year,” he said.

Paul said council did not want to loosen restrictions on itself, but it did want to provide due process for city employees.

Council voted unanimously to put the measure before voters at its Jan. 8 meeting.

Question 2 would double the term of office for the city’s mayor.

Under current code, mayors are elected for two-year terms and may serve up to four consecutive terms, for a total of eight years. The ballot measure would extend the mayor’s term of office to four years, but the mayor would be limited to serving only two terms, meaning eight years would remain the maximum length of service.

The measure would not apply to current Springfield Mayor Ken McClure, who will conclude his fourth two-year term in 2025.

If Question 2 is approved, it will go into effect with the 2025 mayoral election.

Council’s Jan. 8 vote to place the issue on the ballot was not unanimous, with McClure recusing himself from the vote, Councilmember Monica Horton abstaining and Councilmember Brandon Jenson voting against it. Jenson argued that the measure would reduce the number of accountability checkpoints that citizens have on the most public-facing leader of the city. He acknowledged the argument that less frequent elections would allow the mayor to focus energy on leading the city rather than having to focus on campaigning.

A four-year mayoral term of office would align Springfield with some of Missouri’s other largest cities, including Kansas City, St. Louis and Independence. The mayor of Columbia serves a three-year term.

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