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City Beat: Council grapples with removing disruptive people from city property

Issue pits workplace safety against residents’ right to access facilities

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A safe environment for city staff and members of the public was the stated goal of an ordinance put before Springfield City Council on Nov. 6.

The ordinance would have allowed City Manager Jason Gage to craft a policy for removing disruptive members of the public from city-owned facilities and land. However, on a motion from Councilmember Matthew Simpson, members voted to postpone consideration of the policy until the body’s Jan. 8 meeting.

In City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader’s explanation of the bill, she writes that the city strives to provide a positive environment.

“Unfortunately, at times, persons entering city facilities and land violate the law or city rules and regulations or engage in unsafe or disruptive behavior that impacts other members of the public or staff,” she writes. “In some circumstances, persons are asked to leave for the day or suspended from returning for a period of time.”

The policy sought would set out due process provisions and procedures to provide a consistent and fair approach for handling suspensions.

Councilmember Craig Hosmer said council is the policymaking body of the city, and he said he was not comfortable ceding authority to set a policy that could limit access of people to city properties.

“What is unsafe? What is disruptive?” Hosmer asked. “How disruptive does someone have to be before we activate the policy? It seems like if we are supposedly the policymakers of the city that we should at least be able to see that policy before it’s implemented to restrict access.”

He added that he would prefer to review and vote on the policy rather than give that authority to the city manager.

Five members of the public spoke out in protest of the policy proposal.

Alice Barber, a leader of renters’ rights group Springfield Tenants Unite, said it is important for people to feel safe at their jobs, but she does not feel comfortable with policies being decided without public input.

“We don’t know how this is going to affect folks who are homeless or mentally ill, who might be considered disruptive just for existing,” she said.

She added that it could also be applied to people who are protesting on city land.

“We want to make sure that people’s rights are protected,” she said.

Gage said the measure is not intended to affect anyone’s lawful protests.

“We go out of our way, as a matter of fact, to make sure people have the ability on public property to continue to do that,” he said.

He said the effort is aimed at people who threaten others on city property.

“It’s related to when an individual or individuals go out of their way to threaten – perhaps physically or otherwise – our employees to the point that our employees don’t feel safe,” Gage said.

The policy would cover removal from the premises and limitations to access, such as a temporary ban from the property.

In an email, city spokesperson Cora Scott said the situation has gotten out of hand.

“We err on the side of giving folks the widest berth possible before considering suspensions from the building,” she stated. “We understand that emotions can run high and that people express themselves differently. When things cross over into dangerous threats and truly menacing behavior, that’s where more clear direction is needed.”

Liquor license notification
A new requirement in city code will require nearby neighbors to be notified by mail when liquor license applications are filed.

Council voted 8-0, with member Callie Carroll absent, to require the city to notify property owners and occupants of residential dwellings within 200 feet of an applicant location when a liquor license application is filed. The resolution required only one reading.

Prior to the measure’s passage, it was sufficient for liquor license applicants to post signage within the commercial property’s borders, but mailed notification to neighboring owners and residents was not required.

Councilmember Monica Horton proposed the resolution and explained why she saw its necessity. She said a resident may see a sign on a property with a notice of intent to sell liquor, and that sign spells out residents’ rights to protest the application within a 21-day period.

She said property owners are unlikely to live in the impacted neighborhood, as homeowner occupancy in neighborhoods is less than 42%. Tenants are therefore more likely to see a posted notification.

“It’s also likely that it may be day 20 before you find out that there’s a sign within 200 feet of your house,” Horton said.

City code continues to specify that a protest petition with at least 50% of nearby property owners’ – not tenants’ – signatures will be brought before council for the final determination on whether to grant the license.

Historic building survey
Horton also backed a resolution instructing the city manager to pursue an updated historic building survey in the city. The city’s planning manager, Bob Hosmer, told council the last survey was conducted 1984-86 and partially updated in 1992.

Horton said the resolution was being offered in response to the issue of demolition by neglect taken up by council’s Plans and Policies Committee.

“As a result, there was a realization that there was a need to have an accurate inventory of the number and the condition of buildings in historic districts, such as Walnut Street, sections of downtown, Midtown neighborhood as well as Historic C-Street,” Horton said.

She said the inventory is in the interest of historic preservation, which is both a quality of place tool and also a significant part of how the city defines its identity. She added that it is also important for cultural heritage tourism, which falls under council’s priority of economic vitality.

Demolition by neglect is defined by preservationists as the practice of allowing an older building to sit unoccupied and deteriorate until there are few choices but to tear it down.

Horton said, “I would expect from the committee that there will be more discussion to determine by way of this particular survey if there should or should not be a demolition by neglect ordinance, or if there needs to be some tweaks to what already exists for historic preservation.”

The measure, passed unanimously, instructs the city manager to provide an estimated cost for the survey and to apply for a grant administered through the state’s Historic Preservation Office to fund it.

Other action

  • Council accepted $3.9 million from the Missouri Department of Economic Development, appropriated by the General Assembly, to support maintenance and improvements to Hammons Field, the city-owned minor league baseball park that is home to the Springfield Cardinals.
  • Public hearings were held on three rezonings and one annexation ordinance, with votes set for Nov. 20.

The rezoning of 21 acres at 901 S. West Bypass, at the request of Carleton Resources LLC, would change the designation to general retail with conditional overlay from a combination of single-family residential and highway commercial districts. The mixed-use development would include single-family and multifamily residences, with easements for trails to connect Rutledge-Wilson Farm Park trails to the rest of the city’s trail network.

Two other measures would provide multifamily residential housing: one by rezoning 2 acres in the 1200 block of East Pacific and East Locust streets to low-density multifamily residential from general manufacturing and the other by rezoning 3 acres in the 4100 block of West Chestnut Expressway to medium-density multifamily residential from highway commercial and manufactured home community districts.

JNE Holdings wishes to develop housing at a density of 11 units per acre in the center city neighborhood, and Mearl Curtis et al. Revocable Living Trust is looking to establish 18 dwelling units per acre off Chestnut with 60 units total.

The annexation ordinance, at the request of Kurt Wouk, would apply to 5.5 acres of private property at 5298 E. Farm Road 104, adjacent to the soon-to-open Buc-ee’s travel center, for a recreational vehicle park.

• The city aims to enter into an intergovernmental ordinance with St. Louis County for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department to participate in the statewide Missouri prescription drug monitoring program, with a vote set for Nov. 20. The program is a database that tracks controlled substances. Councilmember Hosmer noted Missouri is the last state in the nation to establish such a program, with the first one established circa 2005.

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