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#VeteransofICMA: John Helin

Honoring Those Who Served

The sixth and final in a series of articles profiling ICMA members who have served in the military shines a spotlight on John Helin, retired city manager, Bonner Springs, Kansas.

It is most fitting that on our last day of #VeteransofICMA and on Veterans Day itself, we recognize John Helin. John served for 21 years as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, then made a transition to a career in local government. He served for 19 years in the profession and spent a majority of his time in Bonner Springs, Kansas, serving as city manager, where he retired at his final council meeting on October 26.

A recent article written about John in his local newspaper highlighted that he was one of the best city managers the city has ever had. Clausie Smith, who served as mayor for 10 of Helin's 13 years with the city, said, “He was creative, he was hard-working, he had the best interests of the city at heart...He was tough in terms of things had to be done right, and I’ll tell you what, they were done right." 

From everyone here at ICMA, congratulations, John, on all of your hardwork in public service for the last 40 years!

John Helin

John Helin retiring from his position at his last council meeting on October 26.

Q1: After serving in the military, what interested you in having a career in local government? 

JH:  After 21 years of service in the Army I wanted to continue to serve, but at the local level. I felt I could use my knowledge and experience in a municipal setting. 

Q2: What skills/knowledge/background from your military career have you been able to apply to your local government career?  

JH:  The professional development training I received throughout my Army career combined with my experience as a unit commander and staff officer gave me a large skill set that translated well to municipal government. Being flexible and having the ability to adapt to changing situations is a key skill in the Army, and having that experience is very helpful when serving as a city manager. Also, understanding the importance of developing your staff is something that I carried over from my military career. Teaching, coaching, and mentoring the staff to improve their skills and to prepare them to do the same for their subordinates is a leaders true legacy. 

Q3: Do you have any tips/advice for active duty personnel or veterans who are interested in a career in local government? 

JH:  If you don't already have one, obtain a college degree, preferably a master's in public administration. Also, seek out opportunities to network with professionals in the field in which you'd like to get a job. Don't be afraid to look at assistant positions to get started and ensure you've "civilianized" your resume. I would encourage contacting someone who has gone through this transition and seek advice and counsel from them as well. 

Q4: With veterans returning home to a weak and challenging labor market, have you implemented any sort of veteran’s program in your community, such as: employment, health, housing, education, and the transition to civilian life? 

JH:  I serve on a panel for the soldier transition program at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where I and other professionals share our experiences and provide advice to soldiers transitioning to civilian life. 

Q5: Are there any educational/professional development programs that you would recommend to veterans who are transitioning from a career in the military to a career in local government? 

JH:  Get your degree and, if necessary, volunteer your time to a local municipality. When I was working on my master's degree, I met with a city manager in a nearby town and asked if he had any projects that needed some help. I was fortunate, and he provided me the opportunity to do several projects that I was able to complete for him and was then able to put those experiences on my resume. 


From now until Veterans Day, Wednesday, November 11, ICMA brings you Veterans of ICMA. Follow the hashtag #VeteransofICMA on Twitter to keep up with the latest. 

In case you missed it, click below for the previous #VeteransofICMA highlights:

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