Repeatedly mentioning his role as a member of the Springfield school board, Steve Makoski lobbied the city council on behalf of two projects, including one next to Sunshine Elementary School.
This project, a drive-thru cafe at the corner of Sunshine Street and Jefferson Avenue, was proposed by developer Royce Reding.
Reding, former campaign chairman for U.S. Representative Billy Long, is a founding member of Truth In Politics, an outside spending group that aired TV ads attacking a school board incumbent and supporting Makoski and Kelly Byrne in the weeks leading up to the election. of April.
Makoski and Reding talked about the project on September 15 on The Elijah Haahr Show, which Makoski was the guest host on KWTO. Reding was his guest for the first hour.
Reding said he was surprised when traffic and safety questions were raised about the project. He noted that other 7 Brew Coffee locations, which average 50 employees each, have been successful.
“I thought it was a slam dunk. Everyone was on board. City staff came out and said, ‘Hey, we like the idea, we’re going to support it,'” Reding recalled. “We go to Planning & Zoning and all of a sudden the questions start coming.”
On the show, Makoski said he was interested in the project.
“Someone pointed out to me that they were considering having a local business across the street from one of our elementary schools,” Makoski said. “And that definitely grabs my attention because as a school board member, I want to make sure what’s going on around our school system and how that might affect our kids and…the transportation system as well.”
He added: “I myself took the time and invested a bit of research to determine what the impact on the school would be.”
Makoski told Reding he initially did not know who was behind the rezoning request.
Reding thanked Makoski for supporting the project. “If I remember correctly, you wrote a letter that was pretty well worded, by the way, and I thank you for that.”
After the broadcast, the News-Leader requested a copy of Makoski’s letter to the city. From his personal email, he sent it separately to each council member.
The letter was sent on the morning of July 25. Makoski wrote in it that he would be available for further discussion at that evening’s meeting, when a vote on the draft was scheduled.
That evening, after months of debate, the city council rejected 7 Brew Coffee’s proposal. Asked about the result, Makoski told the News-Leader it was “a lost opportunity”.
In the letter to the city, Makoski sought to calm traffic and safety concerns regarding the project.
He noted that improvements to the Sunshine campus, as part of the 2019 bond issue, improved foot, car and bus circulation on the property.
“As I understand this renovation project has taken traffic volume into account to include the potential for increased traffic due to future development of adjacent properties,” Makoski wrote. “Additionally, the transit route for buses and motor vehicles that pick up and drop off students at Sunshine Elementary has proven to be very safe.”
Makoski also mentioned that Sunshine is a “barrier street”, meaning that students who live south of this street can take the bus as the street is deemed too busy to cross on foot.
He wrote: “This design of traffic patterns and routes was created to eliminate foot traffic which we have had great success in!”
Both Reding and Makoski noted that a business generates more tax revenue than a vacant lot. Makoski said that by supporting the project, he is watching over the neighborhood. “The advantage goes to the schools,” he said.
“I encourage you to vote in favor of rezoning the property in question south of Sunshine Street,” Makoski wrote. “As a member of the BOE and a businessperson, our city should promote businesses that want to create jobs, generate income and provide opportunities for citizens in general to access outlets and alternative catering.”
Makoski said he concluded traffic and safety issues raised about the project “were not a relevant concern” after “meeting” with district officials and those involved in Sunshine’s “reconstruction and remodeling.” .
He specifically cited conversations with John Mulford, deputy superintendent of operations, and Travis Shaw, executive director of operations.
The News-Leader asked the district if he, or the council, was asked to take a position on the project given its proximity to the elementary school.
Stephen Hall, district communications manager, replied: “Neither the board of education as a whole nor the administration of the SPS have been asked to engage in this project, and no correspondence has been provided. by the council or district thereon.”
It is highly unusual for a council member, citing his role on council, to speak out independently on a proposed project near a school.
“I was unaware of the correspondence (of July 25) until we were asked about it this week,” said school board president Denise Fredrick.
In nearly 12 years on the board, Fredrick said she hadn’t written a letter of support for a proposed project involving the city, nor was she aware of any of the others during this period.
She said such letters are not a violation of board policy, but are a “deviation from board protocol.”
When asked if he had the idea of publicly supporting a project near a school by the district or council, Makoski said no. But, he said he might in the future.
“I didn’t go to the board to ask if we should weigh in,” he said.
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He told the News-Leader he learned about the project from watching city council meetings and decided to “get involved myself”.
Makoski said no one asked him to write the letter and it was the first time he had publicly weighed in on a project. “I took it upon myself because I have a vested interest in the community.”
When asked if Reding’s involvement in the project had been a factor in this decision, Makoski replied, “They weren’t connected in my mind.”
He added: “It turns out it was Royce and his company.”
Makoski added that he’s not sure Truth In Politics, the 501(c)(4) that Reding is part of, ultimately helped his bid for a board seat.
The nonprofit group, which does not have to disclose its donors, spent $30,000 on a TV ad that attacked incumbent Charles Taylor, who lost, and backed Makoski and Byrne, who won.
“I don’t even know if he helped me or not. I have no idea,” Makoski said. “He could have stopped my campaign.”
Makoski said that as a member of the board, he needs to keep an eye on what’s happening in the city and county, especially if it’s impacting the district.
“I can’t just be a board member in the sense that I just go to meetings and engage with board members and vote yes or no,” he told the News-Leader. “I have to engage with the community.”
He said too many people are sitting on the sidelines and not working to improve where they live. “I just take my job a little more seriously than maybe others do.”
In the letter, Makoski also supported a proposal for the city to contribute $750,000 to a cell and powerhouse facility that the Ozarks Technical Community College plans to build.
“I actually recommended them to double their (financial) commitment,” he told the News-Leader.
Makoski spent more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy and believes the facility will help high school graduates access the skills training needed for high-paying careers.
“As a member of our BOE, it’s important to me to support our local graduates,” he wrote. “As a businessman, I view this as a facility with great potential for needed revenue streams, job growth and major airlines looking for potential Midwest markets to use Springfield as a alternative to existing cell/motor plant entities.”
Claudette Riley is the News-Leader’s educational reporter. Email news tips to [email protected].