Colleagues on the Lansing City Council paid homage to Mayor Gene Kirby Thursday as he presided over his last meeting fulfilling the mayoral role.

Colleagues on the Lansing City Council paid homage to Mayor Gene Kirby Thursday as he presided over his last meeting fulfilling the mayoral role.

As council member Jesse Garvey put it, “When Billy passed away, I didn’t know if you were sure how to do the role, but you jumped in head first and I’m proud of the job you’ve done.” Garvey was referring to Billy Blackwell, the mayor who died in office leaving Kirby, the council president at the time, next in line to take the position.

Kirby was mayor for “two years and eight months, but who’s counting?” he said. He ran for the office this year, losing a narrow race to former City Administrator Mike Smith in November. Smith will take the oath of office in a special meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday in Lansing City Hall.

Garvey continued his praise, noting, “Citizens don’t know how hard you worked, and I want to thank you.”

Kirby mentioned running for the council the first time because another council member, Dave Trinkle, “wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Trinkle said he knew Kirby didn’t realize what it was going to be like being mayor, but he appreciated his “honest stability and common sense.”

Council member Kerry Brungardt said Kirby and the council “went through a difficult time, but you steadied the ship,” and handled the challenge well.

Another council member, Tony McNeill, praised his “professionalism and common sense approach.” That sentiment was echoed by council member Don Studnicka, who thanked Kirby for his “friendship, your counsel and your leadership.”

For her part, council President Andi Pawlowski said she’d miss her “Sunday night calls” to the mayor, and noted that the “last three or four years (on the council) was not always fun.” After the deaths of Blackwell and former mayor Ken Bernard, which she said were hard for the council and the city, “We were flying by the seat of our pants,” and she felt his leadership and counsel encouraged the group to “do what was best.”

Council member Greg Buehler recalled that he had been council president until only about two weeks before Kirby was thrust into that role, so he could have been in the same situation Kirby was. But he praised the way Kirby “jumped in head first with no hesitation” and provided “exceptional leadership.”

For his part, Kirby, too, had many thanks to give, to city staff, to his fellow council members, and to Tim Vandall, who has now been city administrator for about a year and a half.

Kirby said he’d promised staff “to stay out of their way and not tell them how to do their job if they didn’t tell me how to do mine.”

That didn’t mean he wouldn’t ask questions, because Kirby owned up to doing just that. But he said he’d always tried to be honest and “never sugarcoated” things and made decisions that he felt were in the city’s best interest.

He thanked his fellow council members for their support, but he was a little emotional when he said those same words to his wife and daughter, who were at the meeting.

Though council members expressed their regret he was leaving, it is conceivable that Kirby will be on the council again within a few months. Council member Kevin Gardner turned in his resignation at the last meeting, noting in a letter that he did so because he thought there was someone more qualified to serve in that 1st Ward seat. Gardner was picked to serve Kirby’s unexpired term when he took over as mayor.

At some point, the council will ask for candidates to apply for that position, and Kirby has said he planned to do that. Gardner, who wasn’t present when the board accepted his resignation, was at Thursday’s meeting, and he talked about what an “honor and privilege” it had been to serve on the council. He mentioned three things he would not have known about if he hadn’t been in that role. The first was safety.

“I had heard that Lansing was one of the safest cities,” Gardner said, but he would not have known that this would happen even though Police Chief Steve Wayman was understaffed much of that time.

The second was the sewer system. Though he would have noticed the construction, Gardner said, he would have had no idea about the dedication and hard work it took to get to a functional design for the project.

Third, Gardner said he would not have appreciated the city’s financial stability, as the city has been upgraded in terms of loans and also upgraded so taxpayers purchasing insurance can save money.