Bonner Springs prepares to say goodbye to city manager
Bonner Springs City Manager John “Jack” Helin has been described as a very modest man.
“He doesn’t look for recognition, he just does the job,” said Clausie Smith, who served as mayor for 10 of Helin’s 13 years with the city.
Which is why Helin has insisted that he not be put under the spotlight as he retires next week and the newly-hired Sean Pederson takes his place. But city staff and leaders agree that while Helin will step down quietly, recognized at next week’s city council meeting with a simple proclamation, he deserves great accolades for all he has accomplished.
Rick Sailler, utilities director, noted the “tremendous growth” the city saw under Helin’s watch, including the aquatic center, library, street improvements like the Front Street project and, of course, water and sanitary sewer projects like the Lake of the Forest waterline. Sailler said Helin had excellent financial skills and worked extremely hard to balance city budgets while maintaining city staff salaries during the fiscal downturn.
“He cared about the professionalism of city staff and expected that we perform as best as possible for the citizens of Bonner Springs,” Sailler said.
Helin’s concern was a common theme among comments from city staff.
“Jack emphasized working as a team to provide the highest possible quality of life for the citizens of Bonner Springs,” Tillie LaPlante, finance director, said. “Service to our citizens and safety for our employees were messages he relayed to us often. I appreciated how Jack tried to do what was best for the city as a whole.”
Rita Hoag, who retired as city clerk last year after 37 years with the city, worked with five city managers during her tenure. She said Helin was driven to accomplish projects for the city and held department heads to fiscal budget management.
“Jack worked hard to maintain good benefits, salaries, procedures and policies for employees,” she said. “Jack has a lot of energy and cares about his staff and the community.”
Helin, a Minnesota native, was hired in May 2002 following the resignation of Weldon Padgett. A 21-year Army veteran, Helin previously had been serving as the city administrator in Central City, Neb., which at that time had a population of about 3,000.
“I was interested in moving to a community that was bigger in population and had more responsibility,” Helin told The Chieftain when he was hired.
Then-Mayor Steve Breneman praised Helin in 2002, saying he thought the council had hired “one of the best city managers we’ve ever had.”
Smith said Breneman’s prediction held true.
“Jack was an outstanding city manager,” Smith said. “He was creative, he was hard-working, he had the best interests of the city at heart. He was just a pleasure for me to work with; I can’t really say enough things about him. He was tough in terms of things had to be done right, and I’ll tell you what, they were done right.”
While the city will bid Helin adieu in an official capacity, Helin has indicated he plans to remain in Bonner Springs in his retirement years.