FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) – Fort Worth Council Member Joel Burns kept the fact he’d been accepted to the prestigious Harvard Kennedy School to study public administration for a year close to his vest until Tuesday night’s council meeting when he resigned his council post.
“I was excited to accept Harvard’s invitation last week,” Burns told the council between sniffles during his tearful announcement. “But it’s a bittersweet moment because participating in this program means choosing to step out of this seat here on city council.”READ MORE: Alleged Bank Robber Arrested, Charged Following Fingerprint Analysis
Council Member Joel Burns’ resignation was a bombshell that stunned his fellow council members.
“We didn’t have any advance warning and it certainly was a surprise,” said Council member Jungus Jordan
Burns was crucial in bringing development projects to downtown. Perhaps, most importantly, pushing forward transportation and urban village issues that have changed the look and feel of the downtown areas. Council members said Burns is leaving just as the vision that brought private and federal money into downtown is bearing fruit.
“The density issue downtown has been more of the style of Joel and working on 7th Street and a lot of the economic activity,” Jordan said.
Privately, council members said the challenge would be finding someone who can seamlessly continue the economic and transportation programs already underway.
“We will miss Joel,” Mayor Betsy Price admitted. “He’s got a real passion for public service, a real passion for his constituents. But more than that, he gets the vision for the city: a growing city, the urban village concept, [and] the fact that we have to work on our suburban areas also. He gets those changing dynamics in the city today.”READ MORE: Texas Saw 16% Spike In Deaths From Drivers, Passengers Not Wearing Seat Belts In 2020
But there is something else the council says can’t be replaced. Burns drew national attention for his passionate retelling of being bullied as a child because he is gay and taking up anti-bullying issues. Many, including the mayor, said the council is losing a member that brought the city national respect.
“He’s been a great spokesman, a great example for young men and women who are struggling and that will be impossible to replace,” Mayor Price said.
Burns said he will stay on in his role until a replacement is elected. The city will place the council seat on a scheduled May 10 bond ballot. Candidates can start filing for the election following the March 10 city council meeting vote to change the ballot.
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