City conflict leads to recall vote

Nixa voters will decide whether to keep Mayor Brian Steele in office


Brycen Osborne

the Concerned Citizens of Nixa distribued these pamphlets to Nixa residents’ homes. “Get educated on current events, talk to your council members,” Giddens said. “Know what you are voting for.”

Some Nixa residents are upset over how Nixa’s mayor, Brian Steele, enacted the mask mandate over the summer of 2020. Though the mandate ended April 30, those displeased with Mayor Steele signed a petition for a recall vote in November.
Steele has been the mayor of Nixa since 2014, and he was a city council member four years before that. He enacted the mask mandate because of a local rise in COVID-19 cases.
The Mayor Pro Tempore of Nixa’s city council, Jarad Giddens, said the recall vote is happening after voters signed a petition. If the recall passes, then Giddens would assume leadership.
“Any elected official after being in office for six months, can be recalled,” Giddens said. “Typically, you have to break a law. To initiate a recall, they have to have [10 percent] of the voters sign a petition and they turn in that petition that can start that process. Nixa’s number for the amount of signatures you need is actually lower than anyone’s. … They really only needed about 72 signatures to be able to initiate the recall. Since they got those, we have to hold a special election and everyone will get to go vote and pick if they want to remove the mayor or not.”
Steele enacted the mask mandate because of a rise in infection rates.
“In October of last year, we saw a drastic spike in both COVID cases and hospitalizations,” Steele said. “After hearing from local health officials in Christian County and Springfield, conferring with the Nixa City Council and the Ozark mayor and council members, both Nixa and Ozark decided to require masking.”
A member of the Committee to Recall the Mayor, Ron Sanders, chose to start a recall petition because of the executive actions used by Steele.
“What the Mayor did by assuming powers outside of the Nixa Home Charter was wrong, regardless of circumstances,” Sanders said via email. “There are remedies in the Home Charter for emergencies, and the city council and mayor could have used those remedies just as effectively if they wanted to pass a lawful ordinance. Instead, the city council chose to abdicate their legislative power to the mayor, and expect the mayor to create a mandate which has all of the elements of an ordinance. The Nixa Home Charter gives that power to the city council only. That’s the violation regarding the lawful conduct.”
The Committee to Recall the Mayor of Nixa has gone on record saying that Steele had not considered the vote of the council, but Steele says otherwise.
“Council had voted against masking in July, but three months later, the facts and level of the pandemic had changed,” Steele said. “While all council members still did not want to have a masking requirement, the majority did and all council members supported it after it was in place.”
Sanders said the issue goes beyond procedural problems.
“The mayor chose to not trust the citizens and community to do what was necessary, and felt his need to exercise his illegitimate power upon the people. He chose not to listen to the citizens that he represents, and even moved the voice of the citizens to the end of the city council meetings. … How can we trust someone who doesn’t trust us?”
Steele talked with the city council when making the masking decision.
“So at the time [July], we voted it down, and then fast forward a little bit and we had an emergency order and gave the mayor the power to make certain decisions,” Giddens said. “During that time, everything was very fast-paced. We were changing things multiple times a day. That’s why we gave the mayor that power, so throughout the day he could make those decisions without having to call a meeting. … He wanted to put a mask mandate in place and so he talked to every council member and did have the blessing of every council member. We could have had another meeting, we could have put a vote out there, but I really feel like he did a great job handling the pandemic.”
Mayor Steele isn’t discouraged by the opinions of those who want the recall.
“Those who signed the recall petition are entitled to their opinion,” Steele said. “They followed the rules and procedures laid out in the Nixa Home Rule Charter and met all the requirements to call for the election.”
Steele has a back-up plan if he does get recalled.
“Nixa Mayor is a part-time role,” Steele said. “If the recall passes, I will continue my day-to-day work as a data architect consultant with major companies across the country, but will still remain active in our local community.”
In response to the recall petition, there was a petition in support of Mayor Steele.
“That petition was solely showing support for the mayor,” Giddens said. “Once the petition was turned in to recall the mayor — and they had the adequate amount of signatures, and it was submitted — you can’t reverse it. It would actually take the committee that started the petition, they could reverse it. Now, if the ballots had already been printed, to be able to reverse it, they would have to cover the cost of those ballots which could be anywhere from 10 to 15 thousand dollars. At this point it doesn’t matter if that other petition gets 23,000 signatures, the recall is still going to happen.”
Sanders is unsure how the recall vote will turn out this November.
“I cannot predict this, as it is an odd issue,” Sanders said. “The mayor is liked by many, and people have a tendency to overlook transgressions of people they like. At the same time, people are starting to see how important it is for our local government to operate within the confines of our city’s constitution, the Nixa Home Charter. If one person can arbitrarily make rules for the whole community at 10:30 on a Friday or Saturday night, where will we be? I can only inform people of the violations that occurred, and the circumstances and let them decide for themselves. I hope they understand the gravity of this recall, as it will set precedents that we may regret in the future.”
The Committee to Recall the Mayor is very much involved in Nixa’s community.
“I think it’s great that they are involved,” Giddens said. “… The Committee to Recall the Mayor, not the entire committee, but the one who started it and some of the other individuals, are there at every council meeting. They speak on every agenda, and they bring up good questions. The Committee to Recall the Mayor, they’re great people, they get involved. I like hearing their viewpoints on things, it’s completely different than the viewpoint of my neighbor. I don’t necessarily think this is a good way to spend taxpayer money but it is within their rights.”
Nixa resident Karen Perry, the creator of the petition in support of Mayor Steele, supported Steele before the recall started.
“Me and Brian are casual Facebook friends and so I heard about the possibility of this happening,” Perry said. “… I had kept checking up on [Steele], seeing what we could do to support him. It speaks to his character that he hasn’t outwardly defended himself in an angry way. He really stands in the decision that he made, and is letting the rest of us speak our feelings ourselves. I feel like that is a really respectful thing.”