MASON CITY — More than a dozen residents asked the Mason City Council to reconsider its rejection of Prestage Farms $240 million hog plant one week after the vote.
The council met at 7 p.m. Tuesday and didn’t adjourn post-meeting citizen comments until after midnight.
Though there was no business regarding the defeated proposed hog-processing plant project on the council agenda, more than 100 people remained in the gallery for public comments after the meeting.
More than 40 citizens addressed the council with comments related to the Prestage project. Some of the crowd did filter out as the night went on.
Of the first 10 speakers, eight spoke in favor of bringing the Prestage business back to the table.
Dick Mathes, a Mason City realtor, commended the council for their hard work and urged those who voted against to reconsider.
“One of the major projects in my lifetime is to see this city grow and grow,” Mathes said. “Yes, I’m disappointed.”
On May 3, the City Council vote was 3-3, turning down the project with 1,000 to 1,700 potential jobs for the community. Council members Bill Schickel, Alex Kuhn and John Lee voted against the plant while Travis Hickey, Janet Solberg and Brett Schoneman voted in favor.
Real estate broker Rick Mathes is leading a charge to bring back the project through petitions seeking citizen support for council reconsideration, hoping to sway those on the council who voted against it.
“I’m here to show you that there is support for the Prestage project,” Mathes said. “A small minority of constituents should absolutely not be allowed to set public policy.”
Elizabeth Gales, of Mason City, and several others said that they always thought the deal would pass and regretted not coming out to speak sooner.
“I was shocked when I woke up,” Gales said of the vote.
As the meeting went on speakers supporting the council’s decision eventually surpassed those asking for reconsideration.
Several speakers expressed frustration with those who did not speak out in favor of the plant until after the vote.
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“All the Prestage supporters, I don’t know where they’ve been the past six weeks, the past three council meetings,” said Paul Adams of Mason City. “I don’t think they should be given a mulligan for not being prepared and not having the motivation to speak out and I really don’t think there should be any do-overs.”
Many directly addressed Schickel directly, some asking him to reconsider his vote with others asking for the council to move on.
Schickel said last week that he was undecided on whether he would reconsider his position on the pork processing plant. He reluctantly voted against the deal saying that it would need the acceptance of the community which he felt the project did not have.
“It’s my opinion that if this gets back on the table for discussion, you can take the division you’ve seen and times it by tenfold.” Adams said.
The only way the project could be brought back to the council is if one of the council members who voted no agrees to bring it back for consideration. The item would only need a 4-2 vote to pass.
“I’m so sorry we’re here talking about this again,” Jodi Hardy of Mason City said. “Our community is being ripped apart.”
Hardy, among others, referenced a recent article in the Des Moines Register where Solberg was quoted saying that the racism was the reason the deal failed in the community.
“Way to throw your town under the bus,” Hardy said.
Bob Wolfram of Clear Lake said that he has never seen a town as down on itself as Mason City.
“You know I’ve never seen a community beat itself so bad in my entire life,” Wolfram said. “I wouldn’t do business with anybody that claimed they were going down the tubes; that had nothing good to say about their community.”
The council members did not engage in discussion with the speakers. Each speaker had five minutes to talk about the topic of their choice.
People in the gallery were not allowed to address the project during the meeting because the Prestage Farms proposal was not on the agenda.
The city council will hold a special session meeting noon Wednesday next week to amend the city budget.
As of Wednesday, the budget is the only item on the agenda and therefore the only item the council can discuss, City Administrator Brent Trout said.