Nixa Mayor Jarad Giddens is promising sustainable growth and increased community involvement as he was sworn in last week to replace outgoing mayor Brian Steele.
Having grown up in Springfield, Giddens and his family have lived in Nixa for 19 years. A few years ago, Giddens realized that he had “found our home and wasn’t leaving anytime soon.” He served on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission before being elected to Nixa city council in 2019. With incumbent mayor Steele not running for another term, Gidden ran unopposed in last month’s election to take the city’s top spot.
In a speech after being sworn in last week, Giddens said the new council “has our work cut out for us” in managing the growing city of Nixa.
I believe council needs to focus our energy on establishing policies that ensure sustainable growth, enable business retention and expansion and foster economic growth throughout through incentive programs for new businesses. We also need to invest in infrastructure upgrades, public safety and the walkability of our community,” Gidden said in his inaugural address.
Speaking to the News-Leader, he said Nixa’s biggest downfall is its infrastructure, which is limiting the amount of growth his city could potentially have. He also wants to increase the number volunteer opportunities in Nixa and give its residents easier access to their elected officials.
As part of the previous City Council, Giddens helped put on the April ballot increasing sales tax by three-quarters of a percent, which was ultimately approved by voters. The wide margin of victory of the tax hike is notable because a similar proposal failed at the ballot box a year before.
Asked what changed between the referendums, Giddens said that the approved tax increase was much more focused than its predecessor — all of the revenue generated by the sales tax will go to the Nixa Police Department.
“The previous measure included parks and police. And it wasn’t dedicated, so there wasn’t a percentage dedicated for parks and a percentage dedicated to police. Our residents are very careful about their tax money and they want to know exactly where its going,” he told the News-Leader — noting this was the first sales tax increase approved by voters since the late 1980s.
NPD will use the funds specifically to construct a new building and hire more police officers. The department needs 11 more officers and in his first act as mayor, Giddens directed city staff to amend the budget to allow two officers to be hired as soon as possible.
“Our community supports our police department probably more than any community I’ve ever seen support a police department,” he told the News-Leader.
Mayor Brian Steele says goodbye
Giddens replaces close ally Brian Steele, who has served as Nixa’s mayor since 2014. In his final speech in the post last week, Steele gave council advice.
“It’s your job as leaders to listen and to defend those not in this room, those who do not have the loudest voices,” he said.
The Republican mayor faced criticism and a recall effort in 2021 over the city’s pandemic-era mask mandate. Steele overwhelmingly beat back the recall vote and went on to serve several more years as mayor before stepping down last week on his own terms.
Giddens, who was on City Council during the pandemic, told the News-Leader that Steele and council had to make “tough, tough decisions” when the world shut down to keep their constituents safe.
“The downfall in Christian County is our health department is a lot smaller than other counties and they just didn’t have the bandwidth to be truly as involved as I felt they needed to be. I do think that there’s some decisions that were made by municipalities that probably should have been made by the Health Department. But we were the ones who made those choices and we have learned from them too,” Giddens told the News-Leader.
As a former Nixa councilwoman resigned over backlash for her pro-LGBTQ views, Steele also made a Mayoral proclamation for Pride Month last June. Giddens told the News-Leader he hopes to do something similar, and use his post to honor specific Nixa groups organizing in the community — whether it be for Pride Month, Black History Month, or any other kind of community activism.
“I want to find and meet more people inside of our community that are doing things to make our community better and use my position as mayor to uplift them,” he said.
Giddens noted he hopes to meet with Nixa High Schools Gay-Straight alliance in the near future to discuss what the city can do to support LGBTQ residents.
Aside from the loud voices Steele faced in his tenure, the long-time incumbent recalled the successes of his administration in his final speech.
He pointed to the 100% increase of sales tax revenue in the past decade, which he said shows that “new businesses that have come in and are able to be successful.”
He also pointed out that the city’s debt has fallen precipitously in his nine years in office.
“Most people think when you come in from the outside into government is you can run it like a business. ‘I can make it more efficient, make it leaner, make it make it meaner, get it out there.’ You can’t,” Steele told his former colleagues.
“You don’t have control over pricing. You don’t have control over marketing. You don’t have control over who comes and who doesn’t come, and you have certain things you must provide like public safety infrastructure, and you do the best you can with the finances you have.”
Steele also thanked the community for trusting him and City Council enough to support the first sales tax increase the community has seen in decades.
“This allows us to continue to do more with less. We always say that we do such a good job and that’s why we’ve had so many failed taxes over the last several years. We’re very happy and appreciative of the community for passing a public safety tax.”