City Councilman Justin Burnett Reconsiders, Rescinds his Resignation

Jan 15, 2016

Springfield Zone 2 Councilman Justin Burnett
Credit City of Springfield

One day after submitting his letter of resignation from Springfield City Council, Justin Burnett decided to stay.  KSMU Michele Skalicky has more.

The Zone 2 councilman rescinded his resignation Friday after reconsidering based on reactions from constituents.  City attorney, Dan Wichmer, said the resignation could be rescinded prior to the effective date, which in this case would have been 11:59 Friday night.

Talking with KSMU Friday, Burnett said he decided to resign because, over the last two weeks he was overwhelmed by the time commitments of his job, work and serving on city council.  He was exhausted and decided that something had to give.

"And obviously I can't cut out my job.  That's my paycheck, so I decided that council was going to be the one that was cut," he said.

But after submitting his letter of resignation Thursday, Burnett heard from what he says were “a lot of constituents” who convinced him to change his mind.  He said they told him they wished he would “stick it out and continue advocating for them.”

"An email that I read this morning was definitely impactful.  A constituent had said, 'don't resign.  We need you.  I've always respected you.  I've watched council now because of someone young who's on council.'  'Tough it out' is basically what a lot of these comments were.  And some of them were definitely geared towards the incivility that we've experienced over the last couple of months and hopeful that we can move past that and that removing yourself from the equation is not the solution," he said.

Burnett said he’ll spend “the following days attempting to bridge the gap between both those on the left and the right."  He said, “we don’t have to fall prey to the incivility that is crippling both our state and national politics.”

"We've had some very tumultuous times over the last couple of months and a lot of community issues that have divided and not united, so I'm hoping with a renewed vision and taking a break from college that I'll have more time to do that," he said.

One of the first steps he plans to take is to hold a town hall meeting, though a date and time have not been set.  He hopes there will be civil dialogue at that event.

"I think that folks in various political philosophies can come together and realize that we're all citizens.  We all have great aspirations for the community, and we're all Americans.  We may have different thoughts on issues, but I think we can get past that and work together on the broader issues," he said.

He’s optimistic that can happen.  He points to council itself where he said he respects  members with political viewpoints other than his own.

"Craig Hosmer and Mike Schilling are two examples of that. We don't always see eye to eye on political philosophy, but I know that they've got great ideas.  They definitely have conviction behind what they believe, and I think if we can just get that thought out to the community, that when we're tackling these issues even though we may not have the exact same philosophies on politics, that we can respect each other's viewpoint and have that dialogue.  That's what we need to do to heal the community, bridge the divide," he said.

Mayor Bob Stephens said he wasn’t surprised by Burnett’s resignation but he was surprised by the timing of it.  He anticipated Burnett might decide to run for Lincoln Hough’s Missouri House seat.  But he didn’t expect the resignation until the end of February if it came.

Reporter:  "How about the announcement today that he decided to rescind?"

"That was an even bigger surprise," said Stephens.

Stephens hopes the gap between those with different political viewpoints can be bridged and that Burnett is willing to work on it.  He said council is supposed to be bipartisan.

"The dichotomy between conservative and liberal is one that's only been around since April.  And, you know, we all knew where everybody else was politically in the past, but we were all able to work together for the betterment of Springfield.  We weren't working for the betterment of one particular political philosophy or not, we were working for Springfield.  I haven't seen that happening as much since the election in April," he said.

But he said, if Burnett is sincere about trying to work together, he welcomes, “the cooperation and collaboration as we move forward.”

He said, despite the conflicts, the business of the city is getting done.

"We're getting the streets paved, the lights are there, we're getting new police officers.  We've got a graduation a week from today where there'll be, I think, 11 new police officers coming out and so forth, and all of that is happening.  We're repairing the streets and so forth," he said.

He said that gets covered up by drama that occurs on a short-term basis.

And he’s optimistic that council members can more easily work together in the future.

"I'm certainly willing to reach out to Justin, and, you know, hope that he will reach back and, you know, collaborate and cooperate with everybody.  It's not whether it's liberal or conservative.  We're nonpartisan.  It's not Republican or Democrat.  What it is is what is best for the city of Springfield?" he said.

According to Burnett, bridging the divide between those with opposing political viewpoints won’t be easy, but it’s possible, and he said he’s up to the challenge.  He hopes he can be the conduit to make it happen.

He said, in order to reduce the stress of serving on council, he plans to disconnect from social media as much as possible and to try not to take comments personally.

Burnett’s push for a stronger indecent exposure law last year drew strong opposition from some citizens, even resulting in a petition process to remove him from office

Burnett began serving his four-year term on Springfield City Council in April 2015.