Greensburg A man who led efforts to rebuild Greensburg after it was nearly wiped off the map by a 2007 tornado is leaving the southcentral Kansas town to take a new job in Oklahoma.
Steve Hewitt will become city manager of Clinton, Okla., effective Feb. 8, The Hutchinson News reported Tuesday.
Hewitt, 38, had been city administrator only a year when the E5 tornado landed on Greensburg on May 4, 2007, killing 13 people and destroying up to 90 percent of the town.
Most of the community — including Hewitt and his family — were left homeless. They lived in a federal trailer for 18 months as Hewitt led the town’s rebuilding as a model green community. He went China as part of an official delegation, testified before Congress and was invited by President George W. Bush to attend the 2008 State of the Union address.
“We were thrust into the national spotlight and that will be part of my life forever,” Hewitt said. “The community allowed it to happen, all working together with rebuilding the school, county hospital and businesses. It’s an example of how communities should work together. It was a unique opportunity because the community wanted to be better and do better things.”
Since the tornado, Hewitt represented city administrators on the state’s Commission on Emergency Planning and Response, which helps facilitate emergency and disaster responses in Kansas. He was named 2009 Public Official of the Year by Governing magazine.
Hewitt was a reassuring public face for the community after the tornado, said outgoing state treasurer Dennis McKinney, a Greensburg rancher.
“People across the state and the nation could see the professionalism he projected, which in turn gave others confidence,” McKinney said. “People are more likely to catch your vision for rebuilding when you have bright, professional, smart leadership. He projected that across state and country.”
Hewitt, a Greensburg native who was parks director in Clinton from 2001 to 2003, said leaving was “bittersweet.”
“It’s exciting to take on a new challenge,” he said. “I have such good memories. It has been a long, hard battle, but great people have made good strides.”
Projects still to be completed in Greensburg include the Big Well Museum, a new airport and constructing a water treatment facility, but “things are in place to get these completed,” Hewitt said.
The Greensburg City Council discussed filling Hewitt’s position Monday night. Mayor Bob Dixson plans to play a key role until an interim or new administrator can be hired.
“Personally, I hate to see him go, but I also understand career advancement,“ Dixson said. ”Steve will be with us another month and this gives us an opportunity to make a transition. We have excellent city employees and that makes the transition easier when we have a great crew.”