Reporter

The search is well underway for a new city administrator for Mason City and, already, residents should be willing to balance what they know versus what they don't know about the candidates.

What we know, through research and inquiries by the Globe Gazette, is that four of the five finalists have encountered problems in cities they previously served, causing them to leave those jobs for one reason or another.

What we don't know is the reason those problems existed, something that should be weeded out during the vetting process.

One of the reasons we should be careful not to prejudge any of the candidates, based solely on their recent histories, is that their jobs are political appointments, subject to the whims of the councils that hire them.

Their job is to carry out the policies adopted by their city councils, and they are evaluated on that basis. Politics, even petty politics, is unavoidable.

Mason City's former city administrator, Brent Trout had his share of detractors, as all city administrators do, but he is generally recognized for being a steady hand at the helm during his 10-year tenure in Mason City.

Yet, the City Council often presented challenges to him in carrying out his duties that influenced their evaluation of his performance. For instance, he experienced one year in which the council consistently came up with 3-3 votes on policy issues, making it difficult for him to proceed without clear consensus.

In the council's yearly performance evaluations of Trout, held behind closed doors, he was always eventually rehired but not without occasionally hearing the wrath of council members who were upset with him.

As we approach the hiring of his successor, it is instructive to look back on how Trout was hired in 2007. A search team led by Jim Brimeyer of Minnesota produced a field of finalists for the City Council to meet, interview and evaluate, just as this year's search team has done.

The 2007 council was not impressed with any of the finalists. Brimeyer and company were asked to go out and find another set of candidates. On the second round, the council agreed to increase the starting pay.

Trout, who was the city administrator in Boone, was hired from that second group. Incidentally, he got a taste of what was to come when the vote to hire him was 5-1. Max Weaver voted against him.

Trout has been city manager in Topeka since October and has had his hands full. He had to oversee the hiring of a new police chief and instituted a plan in which citizens had a part in the hiring process.

Also, two weeks before he started, there was an incident in which a Topeka citizen was shot and killed by police, causing a public uproar that still exists.

Still, there are issues in Topeka that must remind Trout of his days in Mason City. Just last week, the City Council was engaged in a hot discussion over -- are you ready for this? -- the sale of fireworks in the city.

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