MASON CITY | It’s been one year since five young Mason City residents were killed in a car crash.
Zachary Hartley, 20; Donte Foster, 17; Sydney Alcorn, 14; Alex Wiebke, 19 and Roderick Lewis, 18, were killed in the crash during the early morning hours of April 10, 2017.
The five were riding in a Jeep Liberty when it veered off the road in the 400 block of Sixth Street Southwest, struck guide wires for an electrical pole, hit a tree and burst into flames. Police said excessive speed and alcohol were factors in the crash.
The tree at the heart of a fiery crash is now a shrine to the victims, covered in snow.
North Iowa Youth for Christ and Mason City Campus Life will host a memorial event for the community Tuesday night, titled “We Remember.” The event is 7 p.m. at YFC, 2210 S. Federal Ave.
The event is meant to be a celebration of their lives rather than just a time for mourning and sadness, said Paul St. Martin, Youth for Christ middle school campus life director.
“We want to make sure the families know that their kids didn’t just mean a lot to them but the meant a lot to the community and that their lives mattered,” St. Martin said.
The high school campus director also has remained in touch with the families, he said.
“The five victims were all students at one time in our ministry,” Martin said. “Last year, we had a ton of support for their families, friends and students in the ministry.”
Foster was a senior at Mason City High School. Wiebke graduated in 2016 and Hartley graduated in 2015 from Mason City. Alcorn lived in Mason City, but was a freshman at Rudd-Rockford-Marble Rock.
Lewis wasn’t attending classes at the time of the crash, but had previously attended local schools.
St. Martin said the event is open to all who knew Hartley, Foster, Alcorn, Wiebke and Lewis and those who want to show their support.
“We want to show the families that we remember their kids and that they will not just be remember a year later but beyond that,” St. Martin said.
Though St. Martin did not know all of the young people individually, he knew one well and worked with others' siblings in middle school.
“It’s hard; there’s a lot of emotion,” he said of organizing the event with others. “It’s tough thinking through, 'How do we honor them, how do we do this?'”
St. Martin is putting together a slideshow with photos of their lives.
“Looking at so many pictures, they’re so happy, so full of life and full of joy,” he said.
MASON CITY | City officials announced Aaron Burnett as the city administrator finalist they declined to name in a city council meeting at City Hall Friday afternoon.
Burnett, currently the city administrator in Keokuk, Iowa, received the Iowa City/County Management Association Manager of the Year Award in 2017, according to a news release from Mason City officials. Keokuk is a town of about 10,400 people.
He has served as a congressional assistant to Rep. Jim Nussle and as a legislative assistant and regional representative for Rep. Tom Latham. He was born in Blue Grass.
The decision comes after Mason City Personnel Director Perry Buffington told council members and Mayor Bill Schickel that under Iowa open records law, the identity of the city administrator candidate cannot be revealed unless he or she gives the governing body permission to do so.
Burnett said in an interview Monday that he had worked with former city administrator Brent Trout when city managers met across the state in Humboldt. Burnett served in a city manager position there from 2010-15. He served in Keokuk from 2015-17.
He added formal negotiations started after the city council's meeting Friday.
"When you look across the state, for a manager and administrator, an important thing is a good council," Burnett said about the Mason City job. "It seems the council and mayor are good people to work with … as a manager, trying to find a position that is a good fit for the manager and the community is important."
Council members, at the direction of a search firm consisting of Story City Administrator Mark Jackson and Washington City Administrator Brent Hinson, had initially decided on the following five candidates:
• Joseph Helfenberger, who most recently worked as city administrator in St. Cloud, Florida, from 2015-17.
• Randy Lansing, who has been Garner's city administrator since 2011.
• Cole O'Donnell, who worked as city administrator in Dixon, Illinois, from 2016-17.
• Jeffrey Pederson, who was city administrator in Paducah, Kentucky, from 2010-18.
• Al Roder, who has been city administrator in Independence, Iowa, since 2014.
First Ward Councilman John Lee said a reason Burnett was picked is because he unified the council, versus the first five finalists.
"His youth and enthusiasm is really big," Lee said about Burnett. "Not that age has anything to do with the hiring process … but the only towns that seem to be growing are the big cities, and that’s where the young families are moving to. And maybe that’s where we have to change the process of this (Mason City) is where young families."
Second Ward Councilman Will Symonds seconded Lee's stance on Burnett's youthfulness.
"While interviewing him, I thought his ideas for retaining younger people and what to do with decrepit buildings were notable," Symonds said in an email.
It's unclear why city officials decided to scrap the original five finalists, after an interview process in late February. An open records request outlined that process among city officials, but didn't specifically reveal why none of the five were picked.
Interim City Administrator Kevin Jacobson has been in that position since Brent Trout left for Topeka, Kansas in late October. Jacobson also serves as Mason City's finance director.
Mayor Bill Schickel said council initially interviewed Burnett in a closed meeting April 4, and that his experience in governing at the state and federal level make him a positive finalist for Mason City.
The challenges he will face stem from the larger population of Mason City and the countless parties involved in city politics here, officials said.
"No. 1, it’s a much bigger community than he's worked in before," Schickel said. "Two, it’s getting to know the community, the players, the citizens of Mason City. All those things will take a little time."
At-Large Councilman Paul Adams also noted the larger city of Mason City would be a challenge, along with dealing with blighted properties throughout town — something council members have identified as an issue the past few years.
"He was recognized for taking care of blighted properties in Keokuk, and he’s got the background and drive," Adams said.
"There’s certain areas where the city might not be able to seize those properties," he added about the current challenges Burnett faces in that area. "And also, where do you find the money in the budget (for rehabilitation and demolition)?"
Burnett is set to be in Mason City on Thursday to attend a special council meeting where his appointment will be voted on. The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in the Mason City Room at the Mason City library.
Burnett, who said he plans to start in Mason City by late June, is excited for the new opportunity — but mentioned there is a learning curve when it comes to any new job and a family relocating.
"One of the things that’s always tough is we’re moving away from a position where I know all of the players and leaders and their concerns," he said. "That’s gonna be an adjustment: new people, new players, new groups to work with."
OSAGE | A St. Ansgar man has been charged with supplying his 19-year-old girlfriend with beer before she was killed in a car crash in January.
Justin William Slaichert, 22, was charged March 21 with felony supplying alcohol to a person under legal age -- death.
Slaichert allegedly gave beer to Hannah Nichole Pfeifer, 19, St. Ansgar, at the Carpenter Community Center Jan. 5, court documents said. Pfeifer, Slaichert's girlfriend, was killed in a crash early the next morning near St. Ansgar.
Court documents said Slaichert admitted to law enforcement he purchased three beers for Pfeifer that evening at the center.
“Investigation revealed that prior to the accident, Pfeifer was at the Carpenter Community Center drinking alcohol and had a blood alcohol content of .154,” court documents said. The legal limit in Iowa is .08.
Slaichert was released on his own recognizance March 30 and pleaded not guilty after waiving his preliminary hearing.
His arraignment is April 24 in Mitchell County District Court.