Years ago I attended a management seminar in which a speaker said one of the principles of good management boils down to three words: Attitude, latitude, gratitude.
Give your people the proper attitude to do their jobs, the latitude to allow them to do it, and express gratitude when they’ve been successful in doing it.
That approach may not work all the time. But it can be applied to any number of situations, including overseeing the work of Aaron Burnett as he becomes the next city administrator in Mason City.
It’s also the approach the public should take in evaluating him. Burnett has a full plate of challenges, headed of course by the River City Renaissance project in which the city is dealing with a hotel developer who has never built a hotel and has had trouble producing proof of financing; and a mall owner who owes more than $200,000 in back taxes which are to be used to help pay for the project.
So the public needs to apply the attitude-latitude-gratitude formula and give the new guy a chance to settle in, learn the culture and then dig in.
He will learn quickly that Mason City is a tale of two cities, to borrow from Dickens, and to borrow once again, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
Last week, in one Mason City, community leaders unveiled plans for “Vision North Iowa,” a look at what the future can be in North Iowa if the public not only buys into the plan but participates in it. There are many facets to it but the prevailing thought is that Vision North Iowa is brimming with potential.
The other Mason City is made up of discouragers – people who sit on the sidelines and wait in anticipation of saying “I told you so” if a project or an appointment fails to deliver.
Hardly a moment passed from the time the city announced the selection of Burnett that the boo birds had already begun chirping on social media. They criticized the hiring process; Burnett’s youth and relative inexperience; and that he had only worked in small towns.
One person said he found Burnett’s photo on the Internet. “He looks short,” the person wrote. I’m not sure I know what “short” is, but I know what “short-sighted” is when I see it.
There are some interesting comparisons to Burnett and Brent Trout, the city’s last city administrator.
Like Burnett, Trout was young (40) when he was hired in 2007.
Like Burnett, Trout’s experience was in cities far smaller than Mason City – Bancroft, Eagle Grove and Boone.
Like Burnett, Trout was chosen after the City Council had rejected the first set of candidates who came before them.
Like Burnett, Trout’s starting pay was considerably higher than his predecessor’s.
The press and the public should keep a watchful eye on Burnett and on all local government and should pounce on them when the situation calls for it.
But not before the guy even gets to town.
Let’s give the mayor, the City Council and Burnett a chance before we start huffing and puffing.
In other words, a little attitude-latitude-gratitude.
John Skipper retired from the Globe Gazette in February 2018 after 52 years in newspapers, most of that in Mason City covering North Iowa government and politics.