Mark Klinker Departs as Ralston City Attorney


Outgoing Ralston City Attorney Mark Klinker smiles while sitting in the Ralston City Council chambers with his Independence Day gong sitting behind him on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (Photo by Scott Stewart)
By 
Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

Ralston – Mark Klinker’s largest contribution to his adopted hometown likely has nothing to do with the practice of law.

Klinker, the longtime city attorney for Ralston, left his biggest impression by coining the moniker “Independence City” for the small Douglas County community that’s surrounded on three sides by Omaha as well as by Sarpy County to the south.

“It reminds us – and then – that we are geopolitically independent,” Klinker said in his farewell remarks last Tuesday to the Ralston City Council. “There is also an independence of outlook.”

The theme of independence came out of a strategic planning session where Klinker made the suggestion to a lackluster response. Months later, however, the idea resurfaced, and it sparked the imagination of city officials upon a second look.

Seward already had claims to be “America’s Fourth of July City,” so that other name for Independence Day became banned in Ralston.

Klinker set up a gong in the City Council chambers and would strike it whenever someone uttered the offending phrase. He said he once yelled at Ralston Mayor Don Groesser for using that heretical expression while working the crowd during an Independence Day parade. Groesser will now inherit the gong – along with Ralston’s new city attorney, Don Ficenec – to continue enforcing Ralston’s summertime tradition.

Klinker said he is also proud of his collaboration with Groesser to hold an October parade following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The pair were attending a Nebraska League of Municipalities meeting, and they realized Ralston needed to do something to give back to the community.

By Oct. 7, Ralston put together a parade that featured fire trucks from across the area. People got behind the patriotic display, and they even invited former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, although America’s Mayor has yet to make an appearance in Ralston.

“It was quite a parade,” Klinker said in a recent interview with The Daily Record. “It was a beautiful day for it.”

That trek to Scottsbluff also gave Klinker the insight to invest in his own corner of Ralston, the legal office building at 7777 L St.

“It was a pretty ugly building when I started renting it,” he said.

But on that fateful drive, he had a stroke of inspiration. He called his architect and told him to take out a $20 bill and make the facade of the legal office look like that.

Now, instead of being ugly, Klinker said he’s proud of his law office building, which he shares with Ficenec and other attorneys.

Klinker ended up in Ralston – and serving as the municipality’s attorney for a few weeks shy of 27 years – by a bit of luck.

He grew up on a farm in west Omaha, and his family would take cattle to the stockyards. They would come through Ralston on the way, so he knew about the town from a young age. In his high school years, Klinker played a lot of baseball in Ralston.

“I always thought it was a neat little town,” Klinker said. “have very fond memories of playing baseball at Orval Smith.”

Klinker attended the University of Nebraska–Lincoln to prepare to be a teacher. But some of his fraternity brothers inspired him to sit for the LSAT, and he ended up accepted at both Nebraska and Creighton’s law school programs.

Meanwhile, his wife took a job at the Papillion La Vista Community Schools, so they decided to move to the Omaha area. Klinker then enrolled in classes at the Creighton University School.

After law school, Klinker went into private practice. He got an office above a hardware store on Ralston’s Main Street. He and his wife lived in La Vista, and he even served on the La Vista Library Board for a while. But his heart was really in Ralston.

“Why does anyone like Ralston? It’s a unique place,” Klinker said. “It’s a neat town, and that’s what drew me here.”

He practiced with another attorney in the office, and he handled just about anything that came along. Eventually, he ran for the Ralston City Council – and lost.

But he was appointed to a seat on the council when the other person in that ward resigned. He began being involved in politics.

Asked what motivated him to get into politics in the first place, Klinker quoted a line from the “Hamilton” musical: “I want to be in the room where it happens.”

While retiring as city attorney, Klinker plans to stay in that room – whether it’s the Ralston council chambers or his own law office.

He recommended Ficenec as the next city attorney, and both men said they plan to work together on city matters, as Klinker offers mentorship and serves as an unofficial historian for the city.

“I do carry an awful lot of the city’s history in my head, and the city’s history is important for its future,” Klinker said. “Don has been working with me on city things for a couple years now. He knows the people. He knows how things are done.”

Ralston’s at an inflection point in its history, as finances for the arena are stabilized and the city looks to invest in the Hinge project to connect its 72nd Street corridor to its downtown district.

“The city is poised to do new great things,” Klinker said at the end of tearful farewell remarks.

Klinker, for his part, plans to continue working full time in private practice. He works a lot with probate, as well as wills and real estate, and handles code violations for La Vista, Gretna and Springfield. But he will miss his Ralston position.

“I will miss it, but I will miss it at the point where I’m not really doing any of it,” Klinker said. “I have plenty of work to do.”

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