Many city leaders called the event "bitter sweet." Many city council members showed support and confidence for Stephens but say they were sad to see O’Neal end his term early. “I can no longer serve as mayor of this community,” O’Neal told city council members Monday night. “It is with a really deep and broken heart that I have to resign as mayor effective immediately.”
O'Neal told city council members extreme financial, business and family pressures caused his resignation. “Jim has been very open with all of us for the last 6 months to a year that he was having some issues with his business,” Stephens said. “Many of us on council have tried to take over some of the appearances such as ribbon cuttings and ground breakings.” Many council members knew O'Neal was considering resignation. No one knew it would happen Monday night. “That was a surprise and a shocker,” City Council Member Doug Burlison said. “I did not see that coming.”
“I really hope he will allow us to say goodbye to him in a more formal way,” City Council Member Cindy Rushefsky said. “He delayed the resignation in order to allow us to vote on the smoking amendments and I think that's typical of Jim O'Neal to put aside his own personal concerns to try and do what is best for the city.”
O'Neal's last meeting was contentious. City council members held a heated debate on amendments to the city's smoking ban. At one point during the meeting, Burlison said O'Neal held the hearing in a “dictatorial way.” Burlison says city council members leave their political differences inside council chambers. “I don't regret anything I said last night. I felt it was an appropriate response to how the meeting was handled,” Burlison said. “Hopefully we are still friends after this because I know there is no grief on my part. I know he is the kind of person that I really doubt there is on his part either.”
On Tuesday city council members, remembered O'Neal’s accomplishments as mayor. They noted his efforts to get voters to pass the police and fire pension tax and his dedication to an open and transparent government. “I think all of us felt like there needed to be more. We couldn't allow Jim O'Neal to walk away that way,” Rushefsky said. “We want him to know how much he has meant to us how appreciative we are as council and the city is of his service.”
As the new mayor and city council move forward, they say the transition should be a smooth one. “He will do an excellent job,” Burlison said about Stephens. “I see my job over the next year is to represent Springfield as mayor and not represent Bob Stephens as candidate for mayor,” Stephens said.
Stephens announced he would run for mayor in January of this year. O’Neal had previously endorsed Stephens along with the local fire and police associations. Stephens was elected as a city council member in April 2009 and selected in 2011 by his fellow council members as mayor pro-tem.
Council members will have to select a new city council member to fill Stephens' vacant position. They will begin selecting applications on May 14 at 8 a.m.