Springfield City Manager Greg Burris to transition to new role

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (News Release) -- Springfield City Manager Greg Burris has resigned his role as City Manager effective June 30, 2018, and will likely transition to the role of Executive Director of the Give 5 Program, effective July 8, 2018.

Give 5 is the city’s new program designed to make the Springfield-Greene County community the top destination in the nation for retirees to get engaged in meaningful volunteerism. City Council has encouraged further development of the program and is hopeful that Burris will consider remaining with the City to lead the program.

“We are not aware of any program like this anywhere else in the country,” Burris said. “It has the ability to be a game changer and a strong economic development tool for our community. In addition to helping retirees find their next purpose in life and connecting those highly skilled volunteers with non-profits in need, Give 5 also serves as a vehicle and next step in helping to address some of the issues uncovered during the Zone Blitz and Impacting Poverty initiatives.”

Burris approached City Council in August and announced his intention to step down effective Feb. 28, 2018, but City Council “rejected” his resignation and asked him to stay through June 30, 2018, in order to lead the City through the completion of the FY19 budget. Burris wanted to provide City Council with enough notice so they can conduct a successful search for his replacement and agreed to delay his transition until June 30, 2018.

City Council’s intention is to begin a search for a new city manager in January and have a selection made who can begin July 1, 2018. More information about the search process and timeline will be announced later.

“It feels like the right time to step aside and let someone else take our community to the next level. My goal, stated to the City Council members who hired me, has always been to leave this job as the most sought-after city manager position in the state. I hope that's the case and we attract an extraordinary pool of candidates eager to become part of this incredible team. We’ve created a healthy organizational culture centered around respect, innovation and customer service. Our community has a lot of momentum right now, and I think our progress on many fronts will help draw a lot of interest to this job,” Burris said.

“While I told my wife when I was hired that I would probably only do this for about five years, it's been nine, and it will be almost 10 by the time I transition to my new role. I am very proud of our team of employees and what we've accomplished during the past nine years. But of all the things we've done, I'm most proud of the fact that we didn't shy away from any problem and we took the biggest challenges head on. Working together, we ‘moved the needle’ on many of these issues and hopefully made Springfield a better place. And if I've done my job, they won't miss a beat as we transition to new leadership next year.”

Burris is a well-known and well-regarded leader in the region and has initiated significant positive change in the City of Springfield organization and in the community served by the local government’s 20-plus departments. His tireless work ethic and ability to bring teams of people together to proactively and successfully address difficult issues are characteristics that both he and the City have become known for over the course of his tenure.

He recently completed his ninth year as City Manager, a role that is described as the chief executive officer of the City. As City Manager, he is responsible for the overall operation of the City, for executing all policies and programs authorized by City Council, and providing general direction to the City’s Leadership Team. The City Manager has direct responsibility for approximately 2,300 full- and part-time employees, a $334 million annual budget, and $1.3 billion in assets. (A detailed list of the department heads that report to the City Manager is included below.)

Burris, Springfield’s 12th City Manager since the City Charter was enacted in 1953, was sworn into office on Sept. 15, 2008. When asked about his start in City government, he often shares the fact that this is the same date the stock market crashed, signaling the start of the worst recession in 50 years. Accepting it as a challenge, rather than feeling dismayed, Burris pressed forward, building a nationally recognized leadership team, who together with community support, addressed a $200-million shortfall in the Police-Fire Pension Fund, presented a balanced budget each year without borrowing or dipping into the City’s reserves and likely saved citizens $400 million by creatively addressing unfunded federal environmental mandates through a first-of-its-kind integrated plan for the environment.

Burris had to make tough choices immediately when he took the helm in 2008. The City tightened its belt, surviving the recession by instituting a hiring freeze that resulted in 200 vacant positions and together with what he describes as the “best leadership team in the country,” departments continued to “live within our means” as he said, while still providing high-quality services to Springfield’s citizens and visitors.

The City’s fiscal health has also substantially improved under Burris’ leadership. Moody’s, a bond rating agency that ranks the creditworthiness of borrowers, increased the City’s bond rating to Aa1 during the recession, a time when many cities faced downgraded ratings and subsequent financial challenges.

“The City’s financial position is expected to remain healthy over the near-term given its current satisfactory reserve levels which provide adequate cushion against fluctuating sales tax revenues and prudent fiscal management,” Moody’s reported.

The City’s Workers Compensation Fund balance also improved during Burris’ tenure, rising from being $5.9 million in debt in 2008, to a having a positive balance by the end of fiscal year 2012. Burris also oversaw establishment of organization-wide insurance coverage to better protect City assets.

Auditors look upon Springfield favorably, issuing all clean external audits, and the City has received the highest possible ratings in all eight external audits performed during Burris’ tenure. In addition, the Citizens Sales Tax Oversight Committee, created in a good faith effort to reassure citizens that the Police-Fire Pension Sales Tax (and subsequently, other City taxes) revenues and expenditures would be reviewed regularly by a highly skilled and experienced group of citizens has also delivered only positive ratings to City Council and the community. Burris would go on to create a couple of dozen citizen-driven task forces, councils and programs, including the influential and engaged Neighborhood Advisory Council with then Mayor Bob Stephens and Councilwoman Cindy Rushefsky.

Across the country, pension shortfalls have resulted in numerous municipal bankruptcies, resulting in deplorable inner city conditions in some instances, and a significant flight of talent out of some of America’s previously strongest cities. The Wall Street Journal referenced Springfield’s success in addressing the issue in an in-depth series related to the matter, acknowledging the creative and note-worthy passage of a Police-Fire Pension Sales Tax. The sales tax was subsequently renewed in 2014 by a wide margin.

The City of Springfield fortunately did not face bankruptcy and is run efficiently within identified revenue streams while providing award-winning service that continues to help develop Springfield as a magnet for new jobs, people and industries. The City’s solid transportation infrastructure and culture of collaboration further seal the deal for companies looking to locate or relocate and ultimately make Springfield home. Springfield is a strong, mid-size city with enviable community support for infrastructure improvement (the City’s 1/4-cent capital improvements and 1/8-cent transportation sales taxes were both renewed in 2016 by more than 80% voter approval).

However, being heavily dependent upon sales tax revenue (more than 50% of the City’s general fund revenue comes from sales tax), Burris and his team have had to be shrewd when managing operations that depend heavily on such a volatile (and in some locations across the country, shrinking, due to competing online sales) primary revenue source.

“We are committed to living within our means, while continuing to provide superior levels of service. Our departments have done a remarkable job of that, based on citizen satisfaction scores and voter confidence in sales tax renewals,” Burris explained when the fiscal year 2018 budget was passed. “It’s clear, though, because of the volatility of sales tax, that a new funding model – and one that does not raise taxes – is needed.”

The recent Level Property Tax continuation proposal was an attempt to help identify a more stable revenue source for certain critical community needs: property tax. The Nov. 7 passage of the renewal without a sunset will not constitute a tax increase and will relieve some (but not all) of the pressure, particularly in the priority area of public safety. Voters overwhelmingly (75%) approved the continuation without a sunset provision, which will allow the additional use of this funding source for additional police officers and fire fighters, as well as capital projects like new and remodeled fire stations and life cycle replacement of police and fire vehicles. The City has not previously had a funding source for life cycle replacement of vehicles and equipment.

The passage of an additional 1/2-cent Greene County sales tax to help fund a jail expansion and much-needed crime-prevention initiatives to help address community mental health and substance abuse issues should also have a positive impact on the community’s ability to address crime and overall public safety. Burris and City leaders worked with County leaders for nearly two years to identify and develop recommendations – many of which will come to fruition now that additional funding is available for both the City and County.

"I was surprised to hear Greg's announcement, but I can understand his decision to step away,” said Police Chief Paul Williams. “Being at the helm of the City for 10 years with his level of commitment is all encompassing and can wear on you over time. I assure you that no one is more passionate about our community, and Greg infused all of us with his sense of pride and focus on making Springfield great. It is disappointing to see him leave the team that he built, but I am confident we are well positioned for the future. Although he was my boss, he was also a colleague and friend, and I wish him the best. "

A dynamic leader not afraid to confront institutional norms or trigger controversy when needed, Burris rallied the City’s leaders, as well as community leaders, to “swing for the fences” on a variety of issues, in addition to addressing core concerns of public safety, economic vitality and fiscal sustainability.

“I'm proud of the extraordinary level of creativity and innovation that occurs within our teams. That doesn't occur by accident, and it doesn’t occur in every city. It happens when dedicated, talented people are challenged and then given the resources and freedom to find creative solutions. I'd put the quality of our Leadership Team up against any city in the country. The success of our teams and individuals is often recognized more within their national and international professional fields than known locally,” he said. “I believe the City of Springfield has been awarded more professional accreditations than any other city in the country.”

Burris has spent a lot of time with citizens of all ages, from all backgrounds, in various places, in an attempt to help Springfield “get better at getting better” as he has been known to say. His original “listening tour” in 2009 traversed from elementary schools to board rooms, as he gathered input for a communitywide strategic planning process known as Field Guide 2030. The ambitious project added six new chapters not included in past community plans. Since that first listening tour, he has also hired the community’s first director of civic engagement (Cora Scott) in 2012 to ensure citizens’ voices are heard and launched a targeted Community Listen Tour specifically in Springfield’s Zone 1 in 2015. The subsequent Zone Blitz initiative to address 11 target needs identified during the Community Listen Tour is still underway, with more than 300 community partners engaged. Burris also co-chaired the Impacting Poverty Commission, a 30-member body that researched the dimensions of poverty in Springfield for more than a year, made specific recommendations for action, and is working to implement those recommended actions via the Prosper Springfield initiative.

A surprising, but positive, turn of events through the efforts to address poverty was the development of a meaningful relationship between the City and the community’s large number of faith-based institutions. As Burris and Scott began getting invited into area churches to discuss what church-goers could do to help the residents of Zone 1, an impromptu “church tour” ignited both interest and engagement.

Several high-profile, successful projects have sprung from the 2015 Community Listen Tour and Zone Blitz, including: The Northwest Project at the Fairbanks in Zone 1’s Grant Beach Neighborhood, the opening of The Dream Center in Zone 1’s Woodland Heights Neighborhood, the opening of Missouri Job Center North in Zone 1’s Midtown Neighborhood and more than 60 separate projects that helped to improve overall quality of life. (A full Zone Blitz series of reports will be issued by the City beginning in January 2018 as the 18-month blitz concludes and next steps are discussed).

The City has maintained momentum in building a diverse, resilient economy, including continued development downtown that included the development or redevelopment of Heer’s, Hotel Vandivort, Sky Eleven, Hotel Sterling and others. Over the past decade, the City has substantially improved relations with developers and continued to work on ways to make the community more “developer friendly.” In 2012, Springfield became the first city in the state to offer electronic plan review.

Springfield has also had continued growth in a diversified employment base. Talent recruitment and retention initiatives are largely successful because Springfield is simply a great place to live and work, and continuing to get better, according to Teresa Coyan, CoxHealth Director of Public Affairs and an active member The Network, a Chamber of Commerce-run young professionals group. “Greg Burris and his team have been highly engaged and advocates for talent recruitment and retention,” she said. “Greg has a way of encouraging people to work hard and dream big. Not give up. Celebrate what this community is and envision what it could be. That’s very appealing to people of all ages.”

In a new video by local talk show host Jeff Houghton, he shares the sentiment: “We sometimes believe this fallacy that there are places for dreams and that it’s probably far away from where you are now and so you go there to meet who you’re supposed to be. But maybe there is here, and who you are supposed to be is who you already are.” This is a recurrent theme among Springfield’s young professionals who have repeatedly stepped up to partner with the City in numerous ways to help cultivate a climate conducive to entrepreneurship and empowerment.

Burris included The Network among the many groups involved in FieldGuide 2030. And, at the request of the Downtown Council of Champions, Burris and Scott also created a set of “Millennial SWAT Teams” and deployed them into five “cool” cities that are attracting young talent. The idea was to bring back ideas and help be a voice in community discussions about Springfield’s future vision. Members of these teams have since been invited to present their observations and recommendations to various community groups eager to hear their vision for our community.

“There are lots of ways to love your city,” said Peter Kageyama, author of For the Love of Cities. “As City Manager, Greg was one of the best I have seen. But this opportunity allows Greg to focus on creating better, deeper relationships between citizens and their cities. This matchmaking program promises to help more people fall in love with Springfield, and that is a fantastic thing.” Kageyama featured Greg and the city’s storytelling focus in his most recent book, Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places.

Citizen satisfaction scores soared under Burris’ leadership. The most recent survey (2014) showed that satisfaction increased in seven of the 12 major categories of City services that were rated from 2011. The major categories of City services that showed statistically significant increases in satisfaction were: effectiveness of city communication with the public (+4%), quality of the city’s stormwater management system (+5%), and location of the city’s drop-off recycling sites (+4%).

Overall citizen satisfaction in the City of Springfield is 15% higher than the Kansas/Missouri average and 12% higher the national average, according to surveyors, the independent research firm ETC Institute.

Cora Scott has worked closely with Burris throughout her six years on the City’s Leadership Team.

“Greg Burris is dedicated to excellence in every sense of the word. He tirelessly works for the good of everyone around him, both inside the City organization and in the greater community. He works harder than most people even realize, and in an environment where we must handle crisis and chaos at times, he maintains an environment of support and balance. He has the enviable ability to strongly use both sides of his brain – navigating complex business operations protecting $1.3 billion in community assets – and exercising incredible creativity and ingenuity,” she said. “And yes, he is as fun to work with as you think he is (I get that question all of the time). I owe him a debt of gratitude for giving me, my departmental team and the City team, the creative freedom to try new things, and for encouraging us to do things no other cities have ever done.”

With Scott and others, Burris has also encouraged the development of new and exciting downtown events, including the Springfield Jazz Festival (a recommendation from the Diversity and Global Perspectives chapter of Field Guide 2030) and the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival. “The City became involved in the festival after learning from citizen input of a strong desire to celebrate our heritage as the birthplace during a planning department effort to revitalize the College Street Corridor,” Scott said. “The festival has just exploded. We went from 4,000 participants to 53,000 in just four years.”

In the role of executing the policies and programs authorized by City Council, Burris has found himself in some challenging predicaments, but also ones that he calls “meaningful and important” and is admired and publicly recognized by current and former elected officials as a strong leader and good friend.

"Greg Burris and I became acquainted in 2000 while we were both members of Leadership Springfield's Class XVI. In the ensuing 17 years it has been my privilege to work with Greg in a variety of capacities at Missouri State University as well as the city of Springfield. The common elements in all of Greg's efforts are loyalty, customer service, excellence, innovation and hard work. Because of his leadership, Springfield is viewed as a state and national model in so many ways,” Mayor Ken McClure said.

"As Mayor, I am honored to work with Greg on a daily basis. I see first hand his commitment, passion and dedication to his work, often at the expense of quality family time with Betsy and Tori. The City Manager's position is frequently a thankless job, but I am so pleased that he is willing to consider continuing to serve our city. To my dear friend and colleague I say, 'well done.' You have the most sincere thanks of a grateful City Council and community. We wish for you every success."

Former Mayor Bob Stephens recalls the interesting times “surviving the urban chicken debate, smoking ban, e-Verify, Larry Rice’s Tent City, panhandling, and the sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI ordinance).”

“Greg came into city government as a non-politician, but with a strong understanding of systems and a big-picture perspective,” Stephens said. “These two qualities have allowed the City staff to work together as a team, focused on continual improvement and constituent service.

During the eight years that I was on Council, Greg led his staff through some interesting and difficult times. The Police-Fire Pension Plan was the first major issue we had to deal with, quickly followed by the e-Verify controversy, the smoking ban (twice), marijuana decriminalization, the SOGI ordinances and repeal, the Zone 1 focus, the jail situation, and the pit bull ordinance.
The City of Springfield earned a reputation around the state for dealing with its problems head-on and for developing some unique and innovative solutions. I give Greg credit for that reputation and, as he steps down in June, hope that we – as a community – never lose that reputation.”

The first time that former Mayor Jim O’Neal met Burris was in the late summer of 2008 at an ice cream social in Phelps Grove Park where the three finalists for City Manager were having a meet-and-greet. “I had not yet to decided to run for mayor, but was very interested in knowing who the City Manager would be, were that to become a reality,” O’Neal said. “It was readily apparent to me who stood out, and I was thrilled to learn of his hiring.”

“Greg is always fantastic to work with. He has a world class since of humor. He tends to elevate everyone around him, leads by example, always credits others and works harder than nearly anyone I’ve ever known. During his tenure, Springfield has moved forward in nearly every way we measure. Greg has been the catalyst for progress through collaboration and planning. I’ve always admired his certain knack that inspires others, makes hard work fun and produces great results.

I am very grateful to have worked with him. He always made me look better than I was and on more than one occasion kept me from getting my breeches hung on my own pitchfork. His family, career and service speak volumes to his character and abilities. I wish he and his wonderful family all the best as he continues to serve our community.”

At the time Burris was hired, former Councilwoman Cindy Rushefsky was the only council member to vote against his hiring. She later had a change of heart about the computer programmer turned City Manager.

“I was very sorry to hear that Greg was leaving as City Manager. In my opinion, he has served the City well and gotten us through some very difficult situations. He was very instrumental in getting the Police/Fire Pension Tax passed which kept the Fund solvent, and kept us in the black during the recession years when many cities our size were looking at bankruptcy. He has been extraordinary in his emphasis on citizen involvement in government and his willingness to reach out to people at all levels. I think he has gone a long way to restoring confidence in city government,” Rushefsky said.

Burris looks ahead with a sense of confidence that he and the City Leadership Team have made a difference together. “While interviewing for the job, I told the City Council that Springfield had ‘lost its swagger’ and, if selected, I would work to bring that swagger back. I think we’ve got our swagger back,” he said. He hopes that those who have been involved in various city initiatives will continue to enjoy Springfield as a great place to live, work and play.

“It has been truly an honor to have served the citizens of Springfield and the employee team at the City. I am very excited about the prospect of staying on the team and beginning the next chapter of my career by leading the Give 5 Program development. With 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day for the next 19 years, Mayor McClure has challenged us to make Give 5 a national or international model. We want our community to achieve a national reputation as THE place to live for retirees and seniors wanting to make a difference in their community in a purposeful way. The communities that get this right will have a significant competitive advantage during the upcoming decades. I want Springfield to be the community that leads this charge and sets the pace. This is the type of thing that can change the world.”

Read the original version of this article at www.ky3.com.