Springfield Councilors Appoint New Mayor

But anger during public comment over former mayor’s ‘gadflies’ statement about small group of active residents

A Screenshot from a June 25 City Council Meeting

After several months, the city of Springfield has a mayor. At a Jan. 19 City Council meeting, councilors voted 4-2 to appoint Sean VanGordon as mayor. Before the appointment, he served for nine years as a councilor, representing Ward 1. During the meeting, the council accepted a letter of resignation for the upcoming term from Christine Lundberg. But the letter provoked anger from the public. 

During “Business from the Audience,” the city’s public comment period, Springfield residents spoke out over Lundberg’s resignation letter. In the letter, she says she is proud of Springfield’s legacy because it’s a city that recognizes the needs of the whole community. But she also targets “a small group” who spend their time to influence City Council decisions. “At one time we called these gadflies; their opinions matter, but they do not speak for the entire community,” she writes. 

In the past, Springfield’s City Council has had large groups show up to raise awareness on issues such as the city’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples Day and more. 

Longtime homeless advocate who ran for Ward 3’s council seat in May 2020 in Springfield Kris McAlister was among residents who criticized Lundberg’s statement. “This failure to honor the people’s voice speaks to the silent cries over the past decade,” he said. “It is ironic that our people are referred to by this reference that originated in a writing called The Apology [by Plato], but there is no apology for the inaction of this body until we have bodies and then maybe we’ll have action.” 

He added that people do not show up to be contrarians. “Our people cry because they are harmed without due process and are not honored in their sacrifice to speak against the cultural systemic abuse that happens here.” 

Many residents also requested the council to condemn white supremacy, especially after one Springfield resident has been identified as a participant of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection and Dec. 21 Salem Legislature invasion. Eugene City Council unanimously passed a resolution condemning white nationalism, seditious activities and extremist groups. 

After the public comment, councilors each took a turn to reassure residents that their input is necessary for them to do their jobs. 

Before appointing a new mayor, the council had to vote to accept Lundberg’s letter of resignation from the 2021-2014 term. The debate for the mayoral appointment was short, and the council voted within 15 minutes of introducing the action item. 

During Councilor Leonard Stoehr’s introduction, he said that the challenge the city is facing is to make its general decision-making process more transparent. “We’re considering a large number of fairly ambitious projects right now,” he added. “I would urge us all to consider the impacts these large projects are going to have and whether it’s going to be positive or negative on the voters — because I guarantee you that they’re paying attention to what’s going on. 

VanGordon said that when a new councilor is appointed in a few months to fill the seat his appointment opens on the council, the body should step back and develop a set of policy goals. “Really form more of a working council so that people are running and working on policy objectives that they want to accomplish,” he said. 

Councilors Joe Pishioneri, Steve Moe, Marilee Woodrow and VanGordon voted for VanGordon. Councilors Kori Rodley and Stoehr voted for Stoehr. 

Rodley spoke out about the mayoral appointment process and to and to an extent the process of appointing the interim councilor. She called the self-selection process “hallmarks of white supremacy and the opposite of accessible, inclusive government that I would like to see and be a part of.” 

She added that when running for her Ward 3 seat, she wasn’t endorsed by councilors. “Had I gone through the application process, I would not have been selected. It was through the will of 12,000 Springfield neighbors that I am in this seat and that I think is how transparency democracy functions.” 

But the Ward 1 vacancy won’t be sent to voters. According to Springfield’s legal counsel during the meeting, the council has to follow the same protocol as for filling the mayoral vacancy. Voters have to approve a change to the city charter. 

If you live in Ward 1, the city of Springfield is now accepting applications for the vacant office through Feb. 1. The application form is available at http://bit.ly/SpfldInterimCouncilor.

The Democratic Party of Lane County is holding a So You Want to Run for Office panel 6 pm Friday, Feb. 5 via Zoom. Panelists include Lisa Fragala, member of the LCC Board of Directors; Brandon Jordan, former board member of the Emerald People’s Utility District; and Maya Rabasa, former candidate for Eugene 4J School Board. The link for folks to sign up to receive the Zoom login info is: bit.ly/dplcpanel