Smith recalls 4 decades of service to Lansing

Connie Parish
Special to the Times
Mike Smith recently was sworn in as a county commissioner after serving as the mayor of Lansing.

Jan. 7, 2021, marked a red letter day for Mike Smith.

A little more than 40 years earlier, this self-proclaimed “Army brat” who claimed Lansing as his home town began his public service career for the city as a rookie patrolman. In the intervening years, Smith served as police chief, city administrator and for the last four years as Lansing mayor. 

As he spoke to the Lansing City Council members and those watching the Zoom meeting, Smith had a long list of those he wanted to thank – volunteers, including board members and coaches; city employees; the city administrator who took his place under somewhat strained conditions about five years ago; Lansing businesses; and of course, his fellow council members.

City Administrator Tim Vandall began the back and forth exchange at the conclusion of the meeting noting that the two met under “interesting circumstances” four years ago, but said they have always “worked well together.” He told Smith he appreciated that the mayor always “treated me respectfully and valued my opinion.” Vandall added, “You’ll be missed around here.”

Smith began serving on the Leavenworth County Commission this week. Council member Tony McNeill, who ran unopposed for mayor, will assumed that position Monday.

Smith expressed his pleasure working with Vandall, noting that he realized, after three months of getting to know the new administrator, that their relationship would be fine. He said he’d miss their conversations about city business, but most, “I’ll miss your friendship.”

He described the last few years, as Lansing has snagged several new businesses, including QuikTrip and Harbor Freight, as exciting, and said the city is well positioned for more business now that it has purchased the land known as Towne Center. 

“We should have done this years ago,” he said.

Smith mentioned his relationships with all the council members fondly, starting with Jesse Garvey, who he described as “blunt.” 

“We always knew where you stood,” Smith said. 

Garvey admitted that he and Smith had “butted heads” sometimes, but he appreciated Smith’s honesty and his advice, especially when he was a new council member. 

“It’s been an honor to watch you serve and to serve with you,” Garvey said.

As for Gene Kirby, Smith said he thought it was “good to have two mayors up here” in the council chamber. Kirby served as mayor after the death of Mayor Billy Blackwell. Kirby said he thought he and Smith had a unique relationship, as he’d served as a council member and mayor when Smith was administrator, and now Smith was mayor and he was back on the council.

“We haven’t always seen eye-to-eye,” Kirby said, “but we’ve gotten things done. Thanks for what you’ve done for the city of Lansing.”

Smith spoke about his 20-year-relationship with Dave Trinkle, who he said they encouraged to serve on the council, promising there would be few executive sessions. 

Trinkle joked that he hoped Smith had many executive sessions as county commissioner. 

“Though we’ve slammed doors (at each other),” he said, they’ve worked together and “we’ll still miss you.”

Smith recalled that he met Marcus Majure, the newest council member, when he first came to Lansing and coached his son. He also talked Majure into coaching as well, and they’ve known each other since 2001.

“I’ve always known you as a public servant,” Majure said. He said he’d appreciated their friendship and serving with him.

To Don Studnika, Smith mentioned his appreciation that Studnika was always willing to represent the city when needed. Studnika joked that “we’ve finally gotten rid of you,” but wished him the best of luck with the commission and reminded him he’s always welcome as a consultant.

Smith recalled serving on the site council for the middle school from which Kerry Brungardt recently retired. He also coached Brungardt’s son. Brungardt said he thought someone working in all the capacities he has for the city was unusual and “pretty cool.” 

He said he appreciated Smith’s honesty, even when they disagreed about issues, and wished him luck. He urged Smith not to forget Lansing when he goes to the county commission and to help the city when he can.

McNeill thanked Smith for his 40-plus years of public service. 

“You’ve done a lot for the city,” he said, adding that he appreciated Smith’s honesty. 

Smith jokingly referred to McNeill as the “hard-headed Marine” on the council, and said he appreciated McNeill’s ability to take an issue apart to find the best solution. He added that he was sure McNeill would do a good job as mayor.

Smith also mentioned council member Gregg Buehler’s way of consistently ending council meetings with a quote that begins “This day in history.” Smith said he’s always enjoyed this.

In keeping with this, Buehler ended the meeting by saying, “In this day in history, Mayor Mike Smith ended 41 years of service to the city to a round of ovations from city council members and everyone in the council chambers.”