Bob Buckley says he doesn't fully know the criteria, and he wasn't about to ask. He is simply grateful for the honor.
Buckley, who stepped down this summer after serving as Sugar Creek's city attorney for 35 years, is the Sugar Creek Outstanding Citizen of the Year. He will be honored along with other such citizens from area communities during Saturday's Truman Heartland Community Foundation “Toast of Our Towns” gala at Crown Center.
He has never been a Sugar Creek resident, though he worked for decades for the city of 3,500 and helped guide it through interesting times.
“I've loved the people there dearly and feel like I'm one of them,” said Buckley, who has been an attorney since 1979 and still has an active law career with the firm of White, Graham, Buckley & Carr. “I'll always feel a strong connection to them.”
Buckley said his most memorable issue on the job came when the American Oil refinery closed.
“Dealing with the issues that surrounded that and helping guide the city along its way,” he recalled, “and figuring out how to replace all the lost (tax) revenues, and the environmental issues. Along the way we've had to deal with the re-use of it and BP after they bought it.”
Also, he fondly remembers when Waste Management opened a new landfill in the 1980s, including $1 million up-front payment the Board of Aldermen secured when their initial hope was $50,000.
“Sugar Creek provides the landfill for a significant part of the metropolitan region,” he said. “An alderman at the time, Charlie Dumsky, believed there should always be a partnership between the landfill and the city. Being involved in that whole process was challenging but very rewarding.”
Of course, there were some disappointments along the way, such as not being awarded a riverboat casino spot from the state gaming commission and the 2008 recession swamping retail center plans at Sterling and U.S. 24.
But obviously Buckley enjoyed the role well enough to sit in on several hundred meetings over the years. And dealing with some of the largest companies in oil, waste management and cement (Central Plains) is more than most municipalities that size has on its plate.
“It's an amazing little city, and that's what we had to deal with in my tenure,” Buckley said. “It was always fun to try and meet challenges, and I never thought politics played a part. If I thought it was too much, I would've left.
“The best part of the whole thing has been the people. A number of city officials have become lifelong friends.”
Sugar Creek Mayor Matt Mallinson said Buckley's years of service justify the honor even if he isn't a citizen.
“Bob served Sugar Creek in good times and bad times, always working to make the bad times good again,” he said. “We thank Bob for his years of dedication and service to our community.”
Buckley also has been an active community member – with his church (Maywood Baptist) and William Chrisman High School activities. He served as booster club president for several years, has been the public address announcer for football and basketball games, founded the nonprofit Bears Tomorrow, which helps young students develop athletic and leadership skills, and funds annual scholarships for graduating seniors.