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In a little more than a week, North Iowans will go to the polls to elect city officials and to vote on various local issues.

In Mason City, interest has been high because of three contested elections — for mayor and for Second Ward and Fourth Ward council seats and two ballot issues related to the River City Renaissance downtown improvement project.

Tom Thoma is running unopposed for an at-large position and, to his credit, has been campaigning as if he had an opponent so he can meet voters, express his views and hear their concerns.

The two ballot issues in Mason City have attracted so much public attention that there are websites promoting the "yes" point of view and another endorsing a "no" vote.

Whichever way the vote goes next week, the future of Mason City will be impacted significantly.

And that brings me to my next point.

Almost lost in the shuffle of all the election hub-bub is the fact that Mason City is operating without a fulltime city administrator.

Brent Trout, city administrator for 10 years, began work last week as city administrator in Topeka, Kansas. Finance Director Kevin Jacobson is serving as interim administrator.

It is up to the City Council to hire a new administrator and it usually takes quite a while. When Brent Trout was hired in 2007, the city hired the Brimeyer search firm from Minnesota to come up with some candidates.

Council members interviewed several candidates and were not satisfied with any of them. So the Brimeyer group went back in the field and came up with another group of candidates. Trout was hired from that group.

It is typically a process that takes months, not weeks, and whoever is hired has to hit the ground running because city business does not stop just because there is no fulltime administrator on board.

At this point, the council has taken no action toward hiring a new administrator. Since a new mayor and almost new council will be onboard in January, the current council may hold off and let the new council start the process.

Let's circle back, for a moment, to the two ballot issues Mason City voters will consider next week.

One is on whether residents approve of the lease arrangement the city is proposing with Southbridge Mall for the ice arena/multipurpose center.

The other is on whether the city should issue up to $14 million in bonds to pay for expenses related to the Gatehouse hotel/Music Man Square renovations that will include a conference center and a relocated museum.

The new city administrator, whoever it may be, will have his/her hands full no matter the outcome of the votes.

If voters approve the measures, the River City Renaissance project will be a go — including the hotel/conference center, the ice arena/multipurpose center and the performing arts pavilion.

There will be dozens of moving parts and deadlines, some of which extend for the next 20 years, all of which will be an immediate challenge for someone unfamiliar with what has been going on.

If the proposals are defeated, the new administrator and the council will have to answer a big question: Where do we go from here? 


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