Editorial: Haukoos did well in short stint as mayor

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 4, 2002

It was a surprise to many when Albert Lea Mayor Bob Haukoos announced Thursday morning that he won’t be running for a second term as Albert Lea’s mayor. After all, this is a man who seemed energized about taking the job when elected, and who appears to have handled his duties well during his first term. For him to take his leave from public life now seemed like strange timing.

Haukoos said he set out to make city hall friendlier, to make city government more accessible for everyone and to improve the relationship between the city and county governments. But Haukoos himself admitted that although he made some progress, a mayor really can’t have much of an impact until he’s completed two terms. That can only mean he will leave unfinished business behind. He will leave office without seeing Albert Lea all the way through the Farmland situation, and without having much of a chance to influence the economic development issues that he has placed among his top concerns.

Surely, his mayorship has been beset by difficulty nobody could have envisioned during the 2000 election. The fire at Farmland may be one of the most significant events in the city’s history, and Sept. 11, 2001 and the economic fallout in its aftermath did not help matters.

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However, it appeared that despite the troubles, Haukoos was handling things well. He was supportive and involved in efforts to change things for the better in Albert Lea, from Destination: Albert Lea’s proposal for the lakes and downtown, to his recent involvement in starting up the Think Tank committee &045; even his vote in favor of boat rentals on Fountain Lake.

Haukoos said he’s leaving, basically, because he bit off more than he could chew: He took the job, then realized it was much more of a time commitment than he had expected. This is partly because Haukoos took the job seriously, refusing to let any duties slip. That’s a credit to him, but it’s also a warning to others who will seek his office this fall: The job asks a lot of you, and you had best be prepared.

Just below the surface, though, was something Haukoos hinted at but never said publicly: The office of mayor, while very visible, does not hold immense power in making policy decisions. It’s clear that Haukoos ran into some opposition within city government, and likely felt restricted by the somewhat limited power of the mayor to get things done on his own.

If nothing else, the people who step up to fill Haukoos’s shoes can learn from his term. And one thing they should take note of is Haukoos’s willingness to open up city hall to the public and provide information when possible &045; a goal of his since the day he was elected. Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s no secret that many Albert Leans distrust city government, and there is no better way to build trust than through openness and honesty. It’s one of many things Haukoos did well, and a trait we hope his successor shares.