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Aaron Burnett 1

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.

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette

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."

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Aaron Burnett of Keokuk speaks at the podium after the Mason City Council voted for Burnett to become the new city administrator Thursday during a city council meeting at the Mason City Public Library.

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.

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Interim City Administrator Kevin Jacobson, right, applauds after the Mason City Council voted to make Aaron Burnett of Keokuk, left, the new city administrator Thursday during a city council meeting at the Mason City Public Library.

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."

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Mason City Mayor Bill Schickel watches as Aaron Burnett of Keokuk signs an employment agreement for Burnett to become the new city administrator Thursday during a city council meeting at the Mason City Public Library.

Contact Steve at 641-421-0527 or on Twitter @Steve_Bohnel.



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