Springfield is changing – and for the better. A renaissance in Springfield began several years ago with the revitalization of our downtown, thanks to the courage and creativity of a group of entrepreneurs. Many of those entrepreneurs and small businesses are still here and a few more have moved to Springfield, even during the Covid-induced recession. They are ready to spring into action as Covid is defeated.
Springfield is also changing politically. No longer can elected leaders get away with labeling engaged citizens as “gadflies” and accusing them of “unduly” influencing the City Council. Previously, insiders could surreptitiously push agendas such as the failed effort to donate a $6 million piece of prime property paid for by taxpayers to a non-profit for a project that would never result in significant returns to those taxpayers. They also attempted to defund body-worn cameras for police in hopes that residents wouldn’t notice.
Springfield residents were disadvantaged by the insular and secretive practices of the past. However, there is reason to be hopeful. Improvements in Springfield governance were first noted months ago when outgoing councilor Sheri Moore boldly insisted on more transparency in the way the City conducts its business. Her efforts were bolstered by Leonard Stoehr and Steve Moe who also promoted public engagement on important issues.
In recent months, a group of actively engaged and highly informed residents has testified at nearly every City Council meeting insisting on police accountability, social justice, and an amendment to the City Charter to ensure that Springfield never again goes two-and-a-half years with an unelected mayor.
To their credit, the newly formed council, including newly appointed interim Mayor Sean VanGordon, has begun to demonstrate responsiveness to the mounting demands from the public for transparency, accountability, inclusivity and social justice.
Newly elected councilor Kori Rodley has exercised strong leadership in promoting this new approach. The old way of doing things in Springfield is being overturned by an active group of residents with a new mayor and council indicating an openness to doing things in ways that better serve all residents of Springfield.
This new approach is not only refreshing, it is essential to the effective exercise of democracy in our community and the restoration of vitality to Springfield.
The council’s selection of a councilor to replace the seat vacated by Sean VanGordon will be an opportunity for the council to further demonstrate commitment to a new way of doing business in Springfield. Springfielders will be watching and paying attention to that selection and to the future work of the council.
I was not successful in my bid to serve as Springfield’s next mayor last May, but I’m highly encouraged by the level of interest and participation by Springfield residents and by initial indications of openness to these changes by the council and the new interim mayor. Needed change is occurring as Springfield moves toward a brighter future.
Mike Eyster is a Springfield resident and serves on numerous community boards.