Zac Burden wants to be, in his words, “the Council member who listens."
“To me, it’s a real important thing that a Council member, in order to represent the people in their community, they need to know how their community feels,” Burden said. “They need to know how citizens in Kirksville feel about important issues. That means making sure that I’m accessible and willing to listen to people.”
Appointed in August to fill a gap on the City Council left by the resignation of Mayor Jerry Mills, Burden is going into his first election as an incumbent. He will compete against seven other candidates for three seats, including two three-year terms and the remaining one year of Mills’ unexpired term.
Burden said he has spent his months on the Council so far learning more how the city government functions and listening to citizens’ concerns.
“I think the city as a whole has achieved some pretty cool things in my time, but I’m sure I can’t take credit for those so much as that was already in the works and I’m there at the end to cast a ‘yes’ vote to make it happen,” Burden said.
Burden said he has worked to make the Council more transparent and accessible to citizens. He advocated for the new process which the city uses to seek and rate applications for positions on citizens’ advisory committees, for example. He said whenever a citizen attends a Council meeting to voice a concern, he makes sure to follow up with them and learn more.
Part of his approach to city government, Burden said, is inspired by his parents’ tradition. Each Sunday they would sit in their driveway in lawn chairs and drink coffee, making conversation with anyone who passed by.
“That’s how they got to know their neighbors, that’s how they became connected to their community, that’s how we all got to know who they lived around,” Burden said. “That’s something I want to be able to do. If I’m elected, I want to have some regular lawn chair sessions in the community.”
Burden said he wants to encourage more people to get involved in city government, whether by attending Council meetings or participating in advisory committees.
Burden said he also strives to be a Council member who does his homework. While the Council meets only approximately three times per month, Burden said he tries to approach the job as a profession and learn as much as he can.
“I’ve been going to a lot of local meetings about a variety of issues, I’ve been going to conferences about upcoming things that matter, reading additional materials, even trying to work with state and local legislators to make sure that we’ve got good rapport there,” Burden said.
Burden, who trained as a social studies teacher, said he wants to bring Kirksville residents together for conversations about what it means to be part of a community — “a big civics discussion.”
“We are a city because we’ve agreed and come together with the idea that this place can be more, because we’ve agreed to do it together,” Burden said. “There are responsibilities that come from the government, to make sure that we have great services provided and that we’re utilizing resources effectively, but we also have responsibilities and commitments to each other: to live together well, to take care of each other, to think of everyone when it comes to decisions that are being made and not just ourselves.”
Understanding more about what citizens want the city to be, Burden said, would help address challenges like limited government resources and poverty. He said he also wants to engage with other government entities, including the Adair County Commission, in a way that is positive and mutually beneficial.
“There are going to be challenges and differences, and that’s going to be true not just with local governments but with state governmental agencies, the state legislature, even with the federal government. There are conflicting interests there,” Burden said. “Where we can make the most difference is to make sure that we’re kind, fair, respectful people.”
Burden plans to run his campaign by publicizing his willingness to sit down and talk with anyone interested in discussing his candidacy or their concerns, he said.
“I want to make sure that anyone who is going to vote for me is informed about why they want to vote for me, or why they wouldn’t,” Burden said.
Burden said he isn’t sure yet whether he’ll ask voters to “elect” or “re-elect” him on campaign materials.
“There’s a real sense of awe that I have in doing the job and that I’ve been entrusted with that, and I would be really honored to receive that through the ballot rather than just through appointment,” he said.