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'Mason City doesn't intend to be idle': New city admin says $39M Renaissance project drew him to North Iowa

MASON CITY | When Brent Trout started as Mason City administrator in 2007, he had over 15 years of experience in city administration experience.

Aaron Burnett had roughly seven when he was appointed by Mason City council members to fill that same role.

After his appointment last Thursday, he had a direct message for those skeptical if he had the experience to do the job.

"I welcome them to have a conversation with me," Burnett said. "I think my credentials and my resume speak for themselves."

"I guess it's unfortunate someone would cast judgement based off of seven years of local government experience," Burnett added. "That completely discounts five years of federal experience on top of that."

His latter comments refer to when he worked as a legislative assistant to U.S. Rep. Jim Nussle, and as a legislative assistant and regional representative for U.S. Rep. Tom Latham.

Multiple city council members said after Thursday's meeting the reason they chose Burnett was because of his progressive attitude and and ability to think on his feet.

First Ward Councilman John Lee believes Burnett was picked because he was the best fit for Mason City.

"There were guys in that other group (of five finalists) that were very qualified," Lee said. "And the guys I thought were qualified, somebody else didn't, they liked somebody else better. And after we met him (Burnett), we realized he was a better fit for the job."

At-Large Councilman Paul Adams said he was impressed with Burnett, and referred to him multiple times as "the total package" candidate. He cited his federal and local government experience, along with his strong interview April 4.

Adams added the River City Renaissance Project is something Burnett will need to learn how to deal with multiple parties just in that area alone.

"He'll have some catching up to do ... as far as research that we've done there," Adams said. "There's a lot of moving parts in that project, so it's getting to know everyone in those parts."

One area Burnett has stated he is interested in pursuing is re-mediating blighted properties. Second Ward Councilman Will Symonds said his strength in this issue stood out to him during the interview process.

"I don't have any numbers ... so I can't say this is a large problem," Symonds said about blighted properties. "But perception is very important. If there's a perception that we have an overabundance of blighted properties, then that's going to rise in people's concerns."

Symonds was also frank when it comes to the idea Burnett isn't experienced enough to lead Mason City.

"I've come across people who have had years and years and years of experience, but they have a poor attitude," he said. "They have lots of years in something, but they may not be quite as good. I think he's gonna do a fine job."

Susan Dunek, who has served on Keokuk's city council for over 20 years, said Burnett targeted blighted properties in that southeastern Iowa riverfront community.

Burnett's greatest accomplishment in Keokuk, she believes, was making local government more efficient.

"You could build a skyscraper and it wouldn't be as important as building the workflow," Dunek said. "Most people would probably not notice that, but he was very serious about making sure he could serve our citizens well."

She and other Keokuk city officials said they were first notified of Burnett's decision to move to Mason City this past Monday, but weren't concerned about him suddenly leaving. Burnett starts June 29, and will make $170,000.

Adams explained during Thursday's meeting the high pay was to attract a candidate like Burnett. He told the Globe Gazette after the meeting other jobs with similar pay statewide may be easier because of their location relative to bigger metro areas.

"We've been trying to grow for quite a while, but there's a lack of people in and around the radius of Mason City," he said of that issue.

Lee, the most senior member on the Mason City's current council, said one of the changes Burnett will have to deal with is managing more department heads, versus being more directly involved in certain aspects of city government.

He and Will Symonds added the city's political climate can be tricky — especially when different groups disagree on certain goals.

"When we pull in the same direction, we can move mountains," Lee said. "But quite often, we pull against each other. So his biggest task is mostly to get this city pulling in the same direction."

"There are a lot of cooks in this kitchen," Symonds added about Mason City's political climate. "There's a lot of people who want to run the show and it can be difficult to be able to hear what everybody has to say ... you get people who want to run the show, and it might not necessarily be their place to run it."

The city will have to pull in the same direction to complete the River City Renaissance, a nearly $39 million project.

Burnett declined to comment on how he'd tackle that issue, adding he needs to educate himself more on its many parts. But he added it's a reason he decided to come to Mason City.

"The investments Mason City's making are an outward sign to people outside the community that this town does not intend to sit idly by," Burnett. "They're really driving to recruit young families and people to the community."

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Mason City Mayor Bill Schickel shakes hands with Aaron Burnett of Keokuk after signing an employment agreement for Burnett to become the new city administrator Thursday during a city council meeting at the Mason City Public Library.

Kanawha City Council considers allowing chickens within city limits

KANAWHA | Chickens may soon be allowed within the city limits of Kanawha.

That comes after Tom Gretillat sought approval from the city council to house six cooped hens on his property Tuesday, April 10, during its meeting.

“It’s all over,” he said. “All these bigger towns are having chickens.”

Under the city of Kanawha’s current ordinance, “bothersome animals, such as bees, cattle, donkeys, mules, horses, swine, sheep, goats, fowl and geese” aren’t allowed within city limits because they “tend to disrupt the peace and good order of the community.”

Cities, like Mason City, Kensett, Dubuque, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, already allow chickens within their city limits.

Councilman Ray Bassett said he’d support a change in the city’s ordinance to allow residents to house cooped hens on their property.

“I never had an objection to it,” he said. “Personally I’d rather have chickens next door than a yipping dog that got out.”

He said a resident used to house pigeons on their property, which would've also been considered fowl.

But Councilwoman Shirley Baker disagreed.

“We don’t need to be starting to get into all these farm animals,” she said.

Gretillat said Kanawha is a “rural community.”

“This is a town,” Baker said. “If you want rural, you go out into the country.”

Gretillat told the council he’s heard women in town say they’d enjoy having access to fresh eggs for baked goods.

Mayor Nancy Litch said some residents are concerned about the sight and smell of chicken manure in the city, but council members said that could be addressed in the city’s nuisance ordinance.

“You can have the same issue with people not cleaning up after dogs,” Bassett said.

The council agreed to draft an amendment to the city’s ordinance and present it at upcoming meetings to allow the public time to provide feedback on the issue, but Gretillat wasn’t satisfied with that response.

“You’re never going to see a damn chicken in town here because you guys make a big deal out of everything that a person brings to this council,” he said. “That’s why you have so many people upset.”

Litch said the city must amend ordinances in a certain way to ensure it’s done legally.

“It’ll be three months versus never,” she said.

Cerro Gordo County Property Transfers
Cerro Gordo County property transfers for April 5-10

Gregory J Messmore, Linda L Messmore to Robert J Buesing, Sunset Ridge Seventh Subdivision Lot 9 Mason City, $349,900.

Farmers State Bank to Davon M Thurman, North Plymouth Block 17 Lot 1 Plymouth, $14,000.

Eric D Miller to Michael C Hauda Sr, Angela Hauda, Hayes Sub of Lot 8 in block 3 Parker & Foster's 2nd Add to Mason City Lot 4 Mason City, $92,000.

Dennis J Campbell, Laura L Campbell to Lawrence Marzen, 35-19-19 SE NW Parcel 'B' in portion of as desc in survey rec B18 P221, $52,000.

Ronald J Behr Trustee/Revocable Trust, Beverly K Behr Trustee/Revocable Trust to Cory J Behn, Jennifer M Behr, 22-94-20 NE NW SE NW, $600,000.

Merlin E Bartz, Lisa M Bartz to Lochan LLC, 05-96-20 SW SW SE SW parcel 'A' in part as desc in survey B18 P806, $61,571.

Dana P Cavanaugh Jr to James D Shinn, Robin L Shinn, Ward's 1st Add Lot 2 Lot 3 W 1/2 of Lot 3 Mason City, $161,000.

Jack E Colburn, Patricia Lenning Agent to Jason David Johnson, WestHaven Block 5 Lot 7 Mason City, $29,000.

First National Acceptance Company to Christina Starkey, 10-96-20 sub of NE1/4 NW1/4 Lot 16 Lot 8 part of fulfillment of contract B10 P404, $49,900.

Siemens Trucking Inc to Timothy F Francis, Rhonda L Francis, Venice Harbor 1st Add Lot 9 Ventura, $430,000.

Mulley Land Company to Scott M Donohoe, Jodi R Donohoe, Stonecliff 3rd Subdivision Clear Lake Iowa Lot 21 Clear Lake, $68,500.

James M Roberts, Jade R Roberts to Ethan L Awe, Nattress' Jacob Sub of 24-94-22 Lot outlot 2 part of, $93,000.

Kenneth D Hanson, Kelly A Hanson to Dirksen Rentals LLC, East Lake Place Block 5 Lots 13-14 Clear Lake, $35,000.

Sarah Clausen Mooney, Daniel L Mooney to Myron J Lupkes, Jayne M Lupkes, Tuttle's Marcus Add Block 17 Lots 6-8 NEly 1/2 of Lot 6 Clear Lake, $200,000.

Joann Merfeld to Luke L Gast, Jennifer A Gast, Grover Park 2nd Add Lot 1 Mason City, $225,000.

Gladyce I Fiala to Merrill J Fiala Jr, College Add Block 18 Lot 18 Mason City, $525.

Fire causes $25K in damage to Outing Club garages in Clear Lake

CLEAR LAKE | A fire caused about $25,000 in damage to garages at a summer condominium complex in southern Clear Lake Saturday morning. 

The Clear Lake Fire Department said in a news release firefighters were dispatched to the Outing Club about 9:54 a.m. for a structure fire at the complex's detached garages, 204 10th Ave. S. 

The fire department sent two medics and 21 firefighters to the scene, who made entry into the garage, knocked down the fire and spent a few hours putting out all of the hot spots. 

No injuries were reported, but the department said "the garage contents were a total loss."

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. 

The Clear Lake Police Department, Ventura Fire Department and Alliant Energy provided assistance at the scene. 

— Steve Bohnel