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“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

That credo has been attributed to many people over the years, from Confucius to Eleanor Roosevelt but is believed to be a sentence from a sermon delivered by a British Methodist minister, the Rev. William Watkinson in 1907.

I think it’s a message inherent in Mayor Bill Schickel’s state-of-the-city message delivered this week as he and the community look at the challenges ahead of us in 2019.

Schickel, as most of us know, is the eternal optimist, whose glass is always half full and wants all of ours to be as well.

In Rev. Watkinson’s sermon more than 100 years ago, he was urging his congregation to quit their bickering and instead, focus on doing good works.

Let’s be honest. Rev. Wilkinson’s flock didn’t have a River City Renaissance Project that had been kicked around for five years with few signs of progress, but his people probably had something comparable eating at their craw.

Schickel, City Administrator Aaron Burnett and the City Council have no choice but to play with the cards they were dealt. And it has been a bad hand almost from the beginning.

But progress has been made. There is a new developer, new architect and new push to get things done. Schickel said groundbreaking on the multipurpose arena should begin in February with completion by the end of the year.

Residents have waited a long time. They deserve to see the first spade of dirt turned. In fact, they may give it a standing ovation.

Schickel acknowledges all of the frustrating twists and turns the project has taken and has given an honest assessment of what it will cost from here on out. Neither he, Burnett nor the current council can be held responsible for money already spent.

Schickel said the developer, Gatehouse Capital, will put up 40 percent of the cost; a state grant will cover 25 percent; and new property taxes generated will handle the remaining 35 percent.

If it fails or does not cash flow, said Schickel, taxes could go up – but he said that is true with any project.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that is the first time anyone in city government has admitted that taxes could go up with this project.

Voters approved two public measures in November 2017 to set the stage for the generation of the new property taxes.

But what Rev. Wilkinson said a century ago holds true today. Flaming rhetoric and character assassination will not get anything built.

As a community, we may have to grit our teeth (again) as we decide whether we want to light one candle or curse the darkness.

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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.

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