Retiring Grosse Pointe Park administrator juggled jobs with skill and a smile

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published March 22, 2023

 Retiring Grosse Pointe Park Finance Director/Treasurer/City Clerk Jane Blahut stands next to a plaque that marked late former Mayor Palmer Heenan’s 25th anniversary in office. Heenan was one of the mayors Blahut worked with closely during her long tenure with the city.

Retiring Grosse Pointe Park Finance Director/Treasurer/City Clerk Jane Blahut stands next to a plaque that marked late former Mayor Palmer Heenan’s 25th anniversary in office. Heenan was one of the mayors Blahut worked with closely during her long tenure with the city.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE PARK — When Grosse Pointe Park Finance Director/Treasurer/City Clerk Jane Blahut began working for the city in 1980, she was 19 years old and was hired as a cashier for the front office.

A lot has changed over the years, and Blahut’s responsibilities and knowledge of city operations have greatly increased, but her commitment to providing residents with caring, competent service has never wavered.

“It’s all been good,” said Blahut, who will officially retire March 31, shortly after her 62nd birthday. “I’ve had a lot of great opportunities here.”

While working in the Park, Blahut went to night school, earning a degree in public administration from Central Michigan University. She and her husband — who’ll celebrate their 40th anniversary in October — had two children while she was in college, and she said his support made it possible for her to complete her education as a working mom. Gradually, as co-workers left or retired, Blahut found herself taking on new roles with the city, becoming treasurer in 1989, city clerk in 1992 and finance director in 2000.

During her tenure, Blahut worked with six mayors, three city managers and dozens of council members.

“I’ve seen so much change through the years,” Blahut said. “When I started, we didn’t have air conditioning (at City Hall). We didn’t have computers. Some of the windows didn’t even open.”

Jim Robson, who spent a total of 28 years on the Park City Council before not running for reelection in 2021, called Blahut “the face of City Hall.”

“She has always checked all of the boxes in terms of ability and competency and enthusiasm and, most importantly, serving warmly,” Robson said. “I wish her well in retirement. Selfishly, I wish she would stick around for another 10 or 20 years,” he said with a chuckle.

Robson said Blahut was always able to answer any question he had for her, and she was “engaged and focused” at all times.

“The community was fortunate to have her,” said former Park City Manager Dale Krajniak, who worked with Blahut for more than 32 years. “She was dedicated, terrifically hardworking and never hesitated to take on greater responsibility. She had a great ability to multi-task and to surround herself with a great staff.”

Krajniak said Blahut “was invaluable” in everything from budget preparation to labor negotiations to pension and health care administration. She was also always willing to answer questions and assist residents.

“As concerns would arise, Jane was very responsive and sensitive to their concerns,” Krajniak said.

Blahut said she was able to learn a great deal about finance from Krajniak, a CPA who had originally been hired as the Park’s finance director.

Former Park Mayor Robert Denner, who spent 13 years on the City Council and then six years as mayor before not seeking reelection in November 2021, said Blahut found creative ways for the city to save money during lean years.

“I truly enjoyed working with Jane,” Denner said. “We could sit down and work out a solution to thorny financial problems in the city.”

In turn, Blahut was able to share her knowledge of the city’s finances with City Manager Nick Sizeland, who was hired as the assistant city manager in 2016 and was named the city manager after Krajniak retired in 2019.

“We’re really going to miss Jane,” Sizeland said. “She’s kind of been a leader here at City Hall. Everyone has a good rapport with her. Grosse Pointe Park is going to be a very different place without her.”

Denner said Blahut was able to wear “three really important hats” for the city simultaneously, “partially because of her experience and partially because of her dedication to the city.”

“She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with, and she’s very good at her job,” Denner said. “That goes back to her integrity and her character. Jane liked people and people liked Jane.”

Blahut’s retirement coincides with the retirements at the end of March of two other well-respected, longtime City Hall employees, Holly Piche and Donna Costa, both of whom Blahut hired 32 years ago.

“They have made my job possible,” Blahut said. “They’re both loyal and dependable. I was lucky to have them.”

Blahut grew up in Roseville but has called the Park home for the last 30 years. One in a family of eight children, Blahut’s father was a carpenter and her mother was a stay-at-home mom.

“I’ve grown up here,” said Blahut, noting that she got married, had children and experienced a long list of other life milestones while working for the city. Her husband, John, retired from his career with an automaker last summer, and they plan to travel more now. The couple are the parents of Joe, 37, and Holly, 35.

“I’m just ready,” Blahut said. “It’s been a really great place to work. I’ve never minded going to work.”

A lifetime of healthy eating and exercise have kept Blahut energized and ready to tackle each day. She even taught exercise classes in Grosse Pointe Park in the early morning, before coming to the office, for 25 years.

Robson said he’s never seen Blahut angry or appearing to have a bad day. She tried to bring a positive attitude to every challenge.

“My big thing is to be accommodating to our residents and to try to resolve their problems,” said Blahut, who said she’ll miss seeing her co-workers and fellow residents all the time.

“I feel so blessed to have had the job I’ve had,” Blahut said. “I have a lot of residents who have become friends.”

She said the city will be in good hands with the new city clerk and finance director, both of whom have previous experience in their respective fields. It wasn’t possible for the city to find one person who could serve as the city’s chief elections official and financial officer. Sizeland, who now becomes the city’s most seasoned front office administrator, takes some comfort knowing Blahut is “only a phone call away,” should he need to tap into her wealth of knowledge.

Blahut is looking forward to spending more time reading, baking and gardening, which are some of her favorite non-work activities. Denner said her chocolate chip cookies are the stuff of legend.

So, too, is Blahut — although she’s too modest to admit it.

“This community values excellence, and Jane Blahut personifies excellence,” Mayor Michele Hodges said. “She will be truly missed. Her impact will last a long time.”