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Many Wheels Turn at Monday Night’s City Council Meeting

Several important city agendas were discussed at Monday night’s city council meeting, involving improvements to the city’s water overflow and sewage system, changing city charter concerning the initiative petition process and amendments to the smoking ban. And as KSMU’s Matthew Barnes reports, the city will be without one less person moving forward.

Council members had a substantial amount on their plates Monday night.  But the most surprising statement came at the end...from Mayor Jim O’Neal.

“I have been wrestling with this for weeks, weeks and weeks and I don’t have any other options. I have got to protect the interest of my business and my family and it can’t do that and honestly serve this community the way it should be served,” says O’Neal.

At the end of the city council meeting the Mayor resigned effective immediately.

Before that, though, Council passed an agreement to improve on the city’s waste water management system. The agreement was a plan to partner with the Missouri Department of Natural Recourses to go ahead with the Early Action Plan to repair many of the city’s old clay pipelines and improve the wet weather overflow system.

The 50 million dollar plan will be paid for by the increase of resident’s sewage payments to City Utilities from $19.75 to $25.27. The increase is scheduled to start in July.

Council also discussed three items that would change the initiative petition process. One would remove the February primary elections, and another would allow Council to alter typographic errors to initiative petitions once they have been brought before Council. The last, which took up much of the discussion, was to increase the percentage of signatures needed to pass an initiative petition to public vote.

Some thought that to change it from 10% of the amount that participate in the last election to 10% of registered voters, which is roughly 10,000 signatures, was too high.  But council member Thomas Bieker thought the bar should be raised.

“During the time when our city fathers wrote the city charter our city we were having in the neighborhood of over fifty to sixty percent. What was the last municipal election that we had on that? 12-13 percent,” said Bieker.

At the end of the debates council agreed to lower the number of required signatures to 7% of registered voters and will vote to approve in two weeks.

After several weeks of tabling and public hearings, City Council voted to approve some amendments to the smoking ban. The approved amendment would allow the use electronic cigarettes in doors and in theatric productions. Also the amendment allows smoking in private clubs, bingo parlors, cigar bars and tobacco shops. Many within the polarized public were not happy with the compromises, although council member John Rush said the city attempted to help appease as many people as possible.

“What my colleagues and I tried to do, was to say as to as many people as we could, within the limits that we could, that we understand. E-cigarettes, Theatre, bingo what did you want us to do? We tried to hear the public and we tried to respond to it. I do resent the suggestion that we are trying to fool the public that is just not true,” says Rush.

For KSMU News, I’m Matthew Barnes.

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According to a release from the city, a special council meeting will be held today (Tuesday) at noon to administer the oath of office for Mayor Pro Tem Bob Stephens to become Springfield’s next Mayor. Jim O’Neal, who resigned last night, was in the middle of his second term. He was slated to complete that two-year term in April.