SPRINGFIELD – Springfield City Council this week is refining ways to garner more community engagement around filling the vacant Ward 1 position, after councilor Sean VanGordon was appointed interim mayor at the Jan. 19 meeting.
The council will appoint an interim city councilor at its March 1 meeting, and have eight applicants who have filed for the position: Troy Allen, Grace Bergen, Timothy Canter, Thomas Lawrence, Kelly Mason, Damien Pitts, Ray Suit and Michelle Webber.
Councilors discussed methods for gathering community input and ultimately landed on a combination of promotional notices in local newspapers, social media, displaying the information predominantly on the City’s website.
“We should err on the side of more inclusion of the public in this process, councilor Leonard Stoehr said. “Up until now we’ve arguably not included the public enough in this process, and I think we can start to correct it by welcoming public input.”
Mayor VanGordon said that while he is “all for public input … I just think the idea of soliciting questions is just gonna make this way too complicated,” because council rules dictate that all applicants must be asked the same questions.
“If you have a question of an applicant, then it needs to be applied to every single applicant, not just one,” he said. “I think the current process that we have going through our questions is more than adequate.”
He pointed out that this decision is not a vote, but an appointment by councilors.
“I’ve already gotten feedback in regards to some of the applicants already, but this is a council decision. The public has voted each of us on the council for making these decisions,” VanGordon said.
“The more moving parts we have, the harder it is to administer an interview process that’s fair to everybody … We want the public to be involved. We want their feedback to be involved, but we want to be clear with the public,” VanGordon said. “We should approach this not as a pseudo election, but we do have to make the appointment and we are just encouraging people to give us input by email, phone call, or written word.”
Mary Bridget Smith, city attorney said the interviews will be on video call and all candidates, and worked with council to pare down its questions and create more opportunity for discussion at Monday’s meeting.
Council will continue its conversation at the Feb. 16 regular work session.
The next term for Ward 1 starts in January 2023 and the election for that role is the May 2022 primary and potential November run off.
Contact city manager Nancy Newton with input around council candidates at [email protected] or mailing to 225 Fifth St., Springfield, OR 97477.