Jones reflects on his career of running BP
After holding the position for nearly two decades, Blooming Prairie City Administrator Mike Jones will finally get a chance to step away for good next month.
Jones had planned to retire a few months ago, but ended staying on in a part-time capacity as the search to find his successor dragged on. The city finally landed Andrew Langholz of Starbuck last week. He takes over for Jones on Feb. 2.
"I'm happy for him that he is going to get a enjoyable retirement," said outgoing Mayor H Peterson. "But I'm disappointed for the city because he's probably the best city administrator we ever could have had.
"He is so skilled with financial things and beyond that he could handle people extremely well," Peterson continued. "People were hardly ever upset about anything during his time as city administrator."
If you take a look around Blooming Prairie at the businesses, parks and streets, Jones likely had a hand in it.
However, if you ask Jones, he wasn’t the one who achieved or accomplished anything during his 18-year tenure.
“The community is the ones that accomplished these achievements,” he said. “It’s Blooming Prairie that did it. It’s the taxpayers and the city council that I’ve had in those 18 years.”
Jones said he is grateful that he always had the support of the city council.
“Over those 18 years, I have probably made some wrong decisions,” he said. “But I like to think that I’ve mostly made the proper decision to advance our community.”
Jones was raised in Leroy, and attended Austin Community College (now Riverland Community College) where he earned his degree in accounting.
He retired from the United States National Guard after 20 years of service.
“I was one of the last draftees in 1972,” Jones said. “So I got to spend two years in the service and when I came back, after about a year I joined the National Guard.”
In addition to serving as the city administrator for the past 18 years, Jones was a member of the Blooming Prairie Fire Department for 22 years and a two-time president of the Blooming Prairie Jaycees, an all-volunteer grassroots organizations that offers opportunities for young people to find their own paths through volunteering and service.
Peterson said Jones said even-keeled person who just has a way of smoothing everything over.
"He doesn't get upset about anything and just runs a nice smooth, steady ship," Peterson said. "It would have been great to serve with him in the military and it's been a pleasure serving with him in Blooming Prairie."
Making BP home
He started working in Blooming Prairie in 1979 after the accounting firm he was working for in Austin decided to expand its operation and open up some satellite offices.
Jones commuted while he and his wife lived in Rose Creek until 1986 when the pair decided to move to Blooming Prairie after Jones bought out the firm he was working for.
During that time, Jones had been doing the city audit, the utility audit and a variety of other city audits for years.
“When the city was trying to make a transition from paper accounting to computers their first attempt was actually done through my office computer,” he said, adding that there was a such of funds at that time that the city administrator actually bought his own computer.
The city eventually changed accounting firms when a new city administrator took over, but the city still hired Jones for various projects.
In 2000, BP’s city administrator resigned and Jones was asked if he would be the interim administrator.
“I eventually organized and was involved in the interviews for city administrators,” he said. “After the first batch of interviews, we offered the job to one gentleman who was a city administrator at the time, but the city he was with offered him a $10,000 pay increase to keep him. So we were going to start our second batch of interviews and someone asked me why I didn’t just apply for the job.
“Being self employed for 15 years it dawned on me that they would pay my health insurance, give me vacation and sick days and still give me a paycheck,” Jones continued. “I talked to wife and we made the decision that I would sell my practice and start this job here.”
In 2004, the Blooming Prairie community was flooded and designated as a Federal Disaster Area.
“We actually got a extensive amount of rain in a very short period of time,” Jones said. “The complete community was equivalently underwater even though there are no streams, rivers or ponds next to us.
“It was the most challenging thing because there was nothing you could do,” he continued. “There was no way you could stop the rain and there was no way any of the facilities in this community could handle that much water coming in such a short period of time.”
The city did a “Storm Water Study” in 2005 to figure out what was causing the problems and came up with some solutions.
Jones, Mayor Peterson and the city’s engineers had to go before and make two presentations to the state’s Legislative Finance Committee to try to get some funding to help resolve some of the issues.
“It was unique for a small-town boy out of Leroy to be sitting in front State Legislators and be making a plea for funding,” Jones said.
“It was kind of trying time. We knew that as a city we couldn’t afford to take care of this problem. So we were looking for some state funding. We didn’t really get much. It ended up costing the city over $2 million to eliminate the north end problem.”
The city acquired some property on the northwest end of town and put in some retention ponds to catch the water coming out the rural area before it came into the city’s system.
Jones helped the city resolve many of its street issues around town, but he said there is another big project out there looming where 2nd Street will need to be completely torn out and the storm sewer, sanitary sewer and water main will all need to be replaced.
Jones said he estimates the project will cost approximately $3.4 million and the city is currently on the state's Public Priority List.
“In other words, we are telling the state that we need this project and we don’t have the funds," he said. "We are slowly working our way up the list as other projects are getting done.
"It’s kind of scary to know we have $3.4 million project out there with the debt that we have incurred in the last five years," Jones continued.
Next legislative session, the new city administrator will get to gain some experience by going in front of the state’s Legislative Finance Committee and requesting those funds.
Jones reiterated many times that what made his time as city administrator so enjoyable was having the support of the city council and community.
"It’s my nature to be conservative," he said. "I’m an accountant by trade and accountants are conservative. I’ve tried my darnedest to keep everything reasonable and watch every nickel and dime spent by the city."
Jones said are some bucket list items he wishes he had seen completed during his tenure.
“I would have liked to seen new bathrooms and changing rooms installed at Pine Springs Pool,” he said. “I would have also liked to seen a bathroom installed at Central Park. We tried to make some improvements to Central Park about the bathroom, but I just think it’s rude that you have to use those porta-potties.
"I have operated using what I felt was common sense,” Jones said. “I like to think that I made most of the correct decisions for our city over the years."