Editor’s note: Candidates for mayor of Springfield, City Council and school board were invited to submit a column in their own words explaining why they are seeking election April 4, or focusing on a topic of their choosing. All guest columns will be published by March 30.
I am Zone 1 Springfield Councilwoman Monica Horton running unopposed, preparing to serve a 2-year term from the corner of our city that I affectionately call “The Heart and Soul of Springfield.”
I come from a close-knit matriarchal family and I am the product of Kansas City Public Schools. I’ve built a life with my husband of 21 years and our 13 year-old daughter. When I was my daughter’s age, I was involved in the child welfare system from age 10 to 15. In retrospect, I am in awe of my mother’s determination and endurance as she worked diligently to reunify with her five children. And I can say that my foster parents and relative placements made me resolute and anchored in my faith.
My values, my family and in-depth commitment to serving Springfield are why I’m running for city council.
I am a leader with an orientation firmly aligned with the Community Focus Report, what I call the “Holy Grail” of documents about the status of our city — blue ribbons and red flags. I’ve made contributions to several status reports with Prosper Springfield and spent countless volunteer hours in the last 10 years attending board meetings, public forums, focus groups, panels, and private conversations discussing how to address poverty, homelessness, talent attraction and retention, underemployment, the disciplinary and academic achievement gap, and the lack of inclusive and equitable systems in our city.
One thing is for sure, nothing gets done in Springfield without the collaborative spirit and shared understanding. This is why I was eager to vote for the following three proposals when I was appointed in April 2022 to city council: American Rescue Plan Act funding allocations; the Forward SGF plan; and the guiding principles from the Mayor’s Initiative on Equity and Equality. These resolutions/ordinances were anchored in city council’s adopted priorities: fiscal sustainability, quality of place, legislative engagement, economic vitality, and public safety. Each of these priorities have significant implications for the future of Zone 1.
Zone 1 stretches from Ozarks Technical Community College to the Springfield-Branson National Airport, Greene County Jail, and the Frisco Highline Trail. Northwest Springfield also spans areas between the eFactory downtown to Historic Commercial Street, the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds, and one of the newer subdivisions behind Lowe’s on I-44 and Kansas Expressway. In between these landmarks of Zone 1 are 10 registered neighborhoods: Doling, the western sections of Robberson, Woodland Heights, Midtown, the northern sections of West Central, Westside Betterment, Bissett, Heart of the Westside, Tom Watkins and Grant Beach.
Roughly 40,000+ people reside in Zone 1 and our reputation of high poverty and crime precedes us. This narrative has cemented many negative perceptions and stereotypes of our area, which also happens to have the greatest number of vacant homes and rental property neglected and abandoned by private property owners.
For many years, community investment in Zone 1 has occurred largely due to dedicated residents, small business owners, nonprofit organizations and government institutions. But following adoption of the Forward SGF plan and shifts toward regionalism by the business community, Zone 1 constituents can expect changes. The 20-year comprehensive plan calls for neighborhood plans that residents will help draft. The Forward SGF plan guides ideas for corridor infrastructure improvements and business development along the West Chestnut Expressway corridor (from the airport to West College Street) leading into Historic Route 66. An entire chapter of the Forward SGF plan has also been dedicated to Historic Commercial Street.
Of all things, I’m mostly concerned about abandoned and neglected private properties in my Zone. Too many unkempt rental properties and abandoned houses stagnate home values of owner-occupied residences. This issue prevents higher home equity that homeowners could use to renovate their homes. Yes, home sales prices are comparatively lower in Zone 1, but our county collects property taxes on lower assessed values in my Zone and this impacts available public education dollars and funding for our senior citizens and disability fund boards. Could the solution be a joint county/city effort to address chronic nuisance properties? City council awaits a presentation from the chronic nuisance property workgroup on this issue to consider next legislative steps.
My second concern is the Tom Watkins Neighborhood. I’ve visited all Zone 1 neighborhood associations except Tom Watkins. But that could change this year with emerging young leaders I’ve met recently who may bring the neighborhood association back to life. These young leaders need support from neighborhood liaisons in our community and I want to be a catalyst for bringing neighbors back together post-pandemic. But I’m even more concerned about environmental contaminants located in the soil and groundwater in Tom Watkins that can become a potential public health crisis resulting from creosote pollution and other cancer-causing pollutants. Our city was tasked not too long ago with “cleaning up” the substandard housing issues by one property owner. In the future, we may be asked to play a role in addressing the environmental and health hazards in Tom Watkins. I wonder if our city and county were called to help, would we have the will to do it at taxpayer expense? We shall see.
I encourage you to write letters to the editor of Springfield Daily Citizen on election topics or candidates who are on the April 4 ballot. Letters are due Tuesday, March 28 by 5 p.m. and will be published by Thursday, March 30.
We’re counting on voter turnout!
Editor’s note: Monica Horton was appointed in April 2022 to fill the unexpired term created when Angela Romine stepped down to run for the Missouri Senate. Horton is running unopposed April 4 to fill the final two years of the term as Zone 1 representative of the Springfield City Council.