Thursday, February 25, 2010

Springfield Mayor's Pattern of Inappropriate Emails is Troubling

He says he'll stop. Read his previously unpublished apology to a Springfield resident.

Springfield, Missouri -- Apparently, Mayor Jim O'Neal knows an elected official's public image is one of importance. When I interviewed him by email during his run for Mayor in March 2009, in one of his answers, then, candidate Jim O'Neal wrote, "Here's something I learned from my work with the trucking industries efforts to enhance its image. It explains the role of image and why we should, w(he)ther we're truck drivers or politicians, be concerned about it. "Public image shapes public opinion which shapes public policy.""

Even during his campaign for Mayor, O'Neal appears to have had the perception that he was a victim of public or private attack. He wrote in answer to another question, "I have been recently and frequently the victim of attacks designed to incorrectly describe or attribute my allegiance or affiliation." He did not elaborate from where these frequent attacks sprang.

When O'Neal was campaigning for Mayor he emailed his supporters to ask them to write letters to the editor of the Springfield News-Leader in support of his election as Mayor. Again, O'Neal had perceived attacks from others, including frequent columnist for the News-Leader Ryan Cooper.

"It seems I am running against Mr. Cooper not Mr. Donegan, as he seemingly can’t speak for himself. I couldn’t find much in this article as to why Mr. Donegan would lead our city or his qualifications to be mayor; he simply attacks me in ways that are designed to stir up discontent," O'Neal told supporters in the email. Later in the email, he wrote, "Please mention in your letter about your support of the capital improvements tax and our support for citizens input and citizen task forces to develop solutions to community issues such as the pension problem. This organized, overexposed, vocal but small group wants to take away your right to vote on issues regarding the CIP, (Capital Improvement Program) parks and other issues designed to keep Springfield moving forward. The only way taxes can be changed are by a vote of you the citizens. These people don’t like that because the vast majority of people are voting for the CIP program, a program they want to kill....The last thing they want is for a broad based diverse group of citizens to have a voice in solving the problem. They‘ve already made up their mind and the public be damned."

While, in the above excerpt, O'Neal did not mention the Save Our Springfield Citizen Coalition (SOS) by name, SOS had proposed the City Council simply allow the CIP tax to sunset rather than approve its placement on the ballot for voters' potential extention in 2010. The current CIP tax is scheduled to sunset if the voters do not renew the tax. SOS favored letting the CIP tax expire as a part of their underfunded police and fire pension solution option.

On February 22, at a City Council meeting, Tom Martz read, as far as I know, the most recent inappropriate O'Neal email. Martz said the reading would be "uncomfortable." Martz was correct. It was certainly uncomfortable, especially when one considers it will air over and over again on the City of Springfield's dedicated cable television station and be archived online for a very long time at "CityView."

But, that said, it would not be appropriate to call the Martz address undeserved. As mentioned at the meeting, the inappropriate email Mayor O'Neal sent to Jim Hornaday was not the first inappropriate email the Mayor had sent to individuals who, much like the City Council, volunteer their time and energy for no fee (and no free lunch) to, as a result, reap the same sort of criticism the public, at large, has been known to hurl at the Council for all its well-intentioned effort. To be sure, when one enters the public forum, one is fair game for both criticism and praise. It is not without its advantages and disadvantages.

At any rate, it's all a matter of opinion whether Mayor O'Neal is or should feel warranted in accusing others of attack, my interest, as usual, was in preserving the information necessary for readers to form an opinion on the matter, not some spiteful attempt at exposing O'Neal. O'Neal has already been exposed and has already admitted the emails were inappropriate and apologized for sending, at least, the email to Mr. Hornaday.

So, without further ado, entered here, below, is the email from Mr. Hornaday to Mayor O'Neal, the email response from the Mayor to Mr. Hornaday, Mr. Hornaday's follow-up response after hearing back from the Mayor, and additionally, there is an apology from Mayor O'Neal which was not included in the documents made available at the News-Leader as a part of journalist Kary Booher's coverage of the issue, and has not, to my knowledge been published elsewhere.

Mr. Hornaday received the apology from Mayor O'Neal on Monday, February 22, 2010, about 25 minutes prior to Monday night's Council meeting, at which Tom Martz spoke.


From: James Hornaday Jr. []
Sent: Sunday, February 14, 2010 12:17 PM
To: Council
Cc: Burris, Greg
Subject: Something I wrote as a comment in the SNL's web news response - - that I'd like to send you directly

I suppose it is a positive thing that our mayor and council are concerned about Mr. McGowan's latest setback in his search for financing any rebuilding of the Heers building. It is natural that the city council and administration have to DO something. The citizens are not as close to the details, and are largely in the dark. We sit in that dark, and sort of wonder just what's happening. So, I put the following in the SNL's reader responsesection. In case you don't peruse the SNL's web, I wanted you to know first-hand what I entered.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"In our prior City administrations, whenever the mayor's good buddies came into a financial trap, they'd work out a quiet little deal where the CITY would ease the burden and take another bite of the dead apple.
OK, we have a new mayor. He's huddled with McGowan. He's got a 'plan' he says just might work. All it needs for support is support from the rest of Council.

Hmmmmmm? Maybe our new Mayor would care to tell the citizens of Springfield how he plans to steam out the wrinkles in McGowan's latest version of "The federal government won't give me any money to rebuild the Heers building? ? ? ?"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

You collectively have the power to do something right, but you also have the capability for wasting MORE taxpayer money. We taxpayers are waiting to see what you intend to do with this problem.
Jim HornadaySpringfield MO


Subject: your vicious attack
From: Jim O'NealTo: ''
Cc: Council; Burris, Greg; Cirtin, Brenda; Cotter, Anita Murphy
Sent: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 4:27 PM

Mr. Hornaday:
Why do you attack me so viciously? For a senior citizen, you’re woefully immature. Why don’t you grow up while you still have time? You’ve evidenced again today that you haven’t the slightest idea of what you are talking about. Everything you wrote was inaccurate, snide, and just plain ignorant. I have only met Mr. McGowan on three occasions: Once last summer on the square at a press conference for his announcement of HUD financing. I met his family, talked to him for a total of 5 minutes and we went our separate ways.
The second time was on Jan 21st in a meeting of his and city staff as they updated us on progress of his financing; a meeting that I simply listened to for less than 30 minutes without comment, and then again in a casual, informal, impromptu encounter last Thursday for a total of about 10 minutes. He simply said he had made progress in obtaining additional financing since he updated staff on the 21st, that he was confident in getting the project moving ahead and thought he might break ground by June. That is a great thing for our community even though you either can’t or won’t admit it. This is an issue this council inherited and we will do our best to see it succeed, if at all possible, and in a manner that benefits this city and its citizens. There are no guarantees, but we will do the best we can. I believe Mr. McGowan will get this done, but he may not. But you don’t have a blessed clue about the how, why and what it takes. Where do you get your facts? There are none at all in your web diatribe. Since the first time I met you, most every thing I’ve ever heard you say is biased, prejudiced, and grossly inaccurate, not to mention mean spirited, hateful, and vile. I have done nothing to deserve your scorn, yet you feel you have the right to slander me and others with wonton disregard for fact or civility. I do not know how you got to be such a bitter old man, but God forbid I live long enough to suffer your fate.
And you want me to appoint YOU to a committee of citizens who will require a modicum of intelligence, cooperation, analysis, and even the slightest decorum? Don’t hold your breath. If you can’t communicate without venomous spew, don’t expect me to listen without rebuttal. I’ll gladly debate you in any public forum any day of the week and expose your misconceptions, falsehoods, and lack of knowledge about city finance and you will be further revealed as a self centered, close minded miscreant with total disregard for truth or any thing that doesn’t line up with your warped philosophies. “Better to remain silent and appear a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” Abraham Lincoln

My very best personal regards,

Jim O'Neal
O & S Trucking, Inc.
3769 E. Evergreen
Springfield, MO 65803
417-829-xxxxx-766-2xx8 cell

Please consider the Environment before printing this email.


Subject: Resolution of concerns
Thu, February 18, 2010 8:35:43 AM
From: James Hornaday Jr.
To: Jim O'Neal
Cc: Council; Greg Burris

Mayor O’Neal:

I am sorry I seem to have generated this attack response from you. You seem to be easily irritated. Your stated desire to avoid achieving my aged ‘warped philosophies’ fate may be not reached if you pop off with a stroke or a heart attack.

It is interesting that you believe “most every thing I’ve ever heard you say is biased, prejudiced, and grossly inaccurate, not to mention mean spirited, hateful, and vile.” That is a quite all-encompassing statement. I wonder if you have forgotten the email I sent to the city on December 31st.

Dear Mr. Mayor O'Neal, Mr. Burris, and Council people:

You are all handling a most difficult job in managing the city. There are many aspects to understanding what has happened to the city in the recent past, and many of you could be fairly new in handling these responsibilities. As an interested citizen and a taxpayer, I share your concern that the city be run in as efficient a manner as possible.

If you know me at all, you will remember that I have been concerned about the city's financial matters, and that I have voluntarily dug into the city's published CAFR reports to at least partially understand how the city developed its current debt load.

After extracting debt data from the City's 2000 through 2009 CAFR's, I have generated a simple EXCEL file that at least partially explains (to me) the history of Springfield's debt history. I would like to share this with you. It may assist you in your future deliberations.

I recognize there were two major time periods when the long term debt and the city's total liabilities went up drastically. The first period was when bonds were sold to finance a number of park projects and downtown development. The second period was when additional bonds were sold were sold for construction of the Midfield Airport. Both those activities have essentially been completed. The two series of sales of bonds piled on the debt.

I believe the combined Council and Administration's efforts to economize during this recession have been effective. I think most people in Springfield recognize how operating expenditures have been properly adjusted to meet declining revenue, without causing undue strain on general operations. The fact that Springfield's debt load has been simultaneously reduced has not been equally recognized.

A third thing that has not been universally recognized is that the principal and interest payments the city makes every year on its existing debt is a heavy load on the City's operating budget. Most homeowners recognize the fact that their monthly mortgage payments must be paid out of current income. It doesn't make much long-term sense when money is tight to buy a bunch of 'stuff' with a near maxed-out credit card, or to use a cash advance from the same card to pay the mortgage.

Your financial actions in managing the past year's money crunch have been quite credible. I hope you (collectively) can continue running the City within your income, and that you don't initiate any big new expensive capital improvement programs that would add more debt.

Sincerely, Jim Hornaday
4470 S. Pxxx Ave.
Springfield MO 65810

I really intended that message to be a compliment to the way you and the city had handled the CIP budget in recent tight times. Possibly you didn’t think the message was sufficiently complimentary. Maybe you consider every public comment from any individual about your civic activities must be completely and totally complimentary. I really can’t read your mind on how you might view this situation. At best, I would venture the opinion that you could be just a wee bit inconsistent in your judgments.

Now, let’s look at the presumed lack of facts that you ascribe to my February 14th’s email’s “total disregard for truth”:

> Is it an urban myth or a fact that prior (not current) city administrations made commitments with the various owners of the Heers building that have cost the city more than anyone expected? You tell me whether that is a fact or not.

> Is it factual or not that Mr. McGowan announced he was unable to arrange any HUD financing for renovation of the Heers building?

> Did or did not the Springfield News-Leader properly report that you met with Mr. McGowan after his announcement of failure to achieve any HUD commitment for financing, and it was further reported that he had requested an extension of his requirement for starting his renovation work?

> Did or did you not make statements in the News-Leader’s story that you had some ‘ideas’ that might resolve this apparent delay in the building’s renovation, and that you wanted to discuss this new possibility with the rest of City Council?

City Council is not the only group of people in the city that would like to know what you might be proposing. I imagine everyone will be told when the issue comes up for Council discussion. Fair enough!

In the meantime, with our limited knowledge and the remembrance that prior administrations did not serve the citizens too well in situations like this, we wonder:

> Are you proposing another time extension for start-up of the renovation?

> Could your proposal require more city money to be invested in the project so that Mr. McGowan’s capital would be enhanced to the point that HUD would approve his major capital loan? Or,

> Might your proposal be something beyond our imaginings?

I do not expect this letter will change your personal opinions of my character one bit. I had a premonition that even before I wrote my February 14th email that you were intending to veto any application I might make for serving on any volunteer city committee. Your last email merely confirmed the thought.

I hope you can live with your easily aroused anger. As mayor, you will be confronted in many situations where other people will disagree with your opinions. Being Mayor is not the same as being owner/president of O & S Trucking, where you can fire anybody in the organization any time you perceive you have been insulted. Citizens in Springfield do have legitimate questions. We just would like to know what you are proposing.

James R. Hornaday Jr.
Springfield MO 65810


From: "Oneal, Jim"
To: ""
Sent: Mon, February 22, 2010 6:04:54 PM
Subject: apology

Mr. Hornaday,

Please accept my sincere apology for my unwarranted response. You do have a caustic way about you, but that might be just a bit of spice in your character. I do in fact recall the positive message and I do appreciate it. You asked me four questions at the end of your response today about my allegation of your total dis-regard of the truth.

In item one: It is an urban myth. The city's previous administrations did however, "dodge a bullet" by divesting their (our) ownership of the building. My understanding is we have incurred about $250,000 of closing costs in the transactions. We have no obligation to purchase the building if Mr. McGowan does not succeed.

Item two: It is not factual. Mr. McGowan does in fact have a loan guarantee commitment from HUD. He must fulfill the terms of the commitment. The recent reports he has missed a deadline do not kill the deal. My understanding is it only obligates him to get a new appraisal, at his expense. The other sources of money, both public and private are nearly all arranged. However, I don't know if he'll get the deal done. It is complex and this is a terrible economy. Springfield's continued role in this is in fact rather limited. It is his project to get done or not.

Item three: If the News-Leader reported Mr. McGowan asked me personally for any sort of extension, that would be totally inaccurate. Any extension, frankly would not be mine to give. As I tried to explain in my poor response to you, the meeting reported was a casual, unplanned 10 minute visit at the Farmer's Gastropub, where he had just come from a planning meeting downtown. I was having dinner with my family. He actually spoke more to my daughter in law than me. He did say he was excited and had nearly everything in place for what he hopes is a groundbreaking in June. I wished him well.

Item four: I never said anything to indicate I have, as you referred to in your web blog, "A plan." I have no idea where that comes from. I have asked the City staff to prepare an update for council within thirty days. I hope that demonstrates fiduciary commitment, because that is why I asked for it. I did say something to the effect that this is a complex arrangement and his group may come up with some alternatives if portions of his financing arrangements don't materialize as he plans. The city staff can offer ideas as well. But I do not now nor have I ever said "I have a plan." Mr. McGowan has to make this happen.

I guess their is a larger lesson here. I will react more appropriately and all I ask from you is before you blog something like you did above, why don't we talk, have coffee? I have nothing to hide and while we might not agree on everything I'm sure we'll both be the better for it and learn rather than burn. You have my cell number. It is at the bottom of my previous e-mail fromO & S.
Again, I do apologize and will show more respect in the future.

Jim O'Neal
City of Springfield Missouri



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