Keokuk has reached an agreement with Cole O'Donnell to serve as its next city administrator, pending a final vote by the City Council. O'Donnell said he's excited for the opportunity to serve the city and its residents.
O’Donnell has worked in city administration for nearly 25 years. He's held jobs in East Moline, Illinois, Algona, Iowa, and most recently Dixon Illinois. He said he found this career path in college, allowing him to follow his passion for government without the challenges of running for public office.
O’Donnell said he feels Keokuk will be a good fit for him.
“I think that the opportunity to once again be back in my home state was a big draw,” said O’Donnell. “The other thing is that there are a lot of challenges but also a lot of opportunities in Keokuk and I am always looking for things to challenge me and new experiences. I think Keokuk will offer that.
“With all the community pride and the spirit that I saw during my interview process, I think there are a lot of things that we can get done.”
O’Donnell was one of 27 people to apply for the post. He and the other four finalists spent two days in Keokuk to tour the city, meet the public, and participate in some lengthy interviews. He said he tried during the interviews to show that he is a hard worker and very enthusiastic.
“My goal for every community I have ever served has always been to leave the place better than when I arrived,” said O’Donnell. “I think I have done that in every community and I hope to do that for Keokuk.”
O’Donnell will replace Aaron Burnett, who is stepping down June 22 to become City Administrator in Mason City, Iowa. Keokuk will not appoint an interim city administrator to fill the gap between June 22 and July 9, which is O'Donnell's expected starting date. O' Donnell said between now and July 9, he plans to make a couple trips to Keokuk to meet with city staff and members of the community and he plans to meet with Burnett about ongoing projects and priorities.
O’Donnell said as a city administrator, he puts a lot of trust in the people he works with.
“I like to be hands-off in that I expect that the people working with me know their jobs, know what they need to do, know how to get it done, and know when to seek advice from me as I know when to seek advice from them,” said O’Donnell. “I like to have my department heads and the other people I work with knowing what they are doing so I can always rely upon them.
“I never look at anything that goes on in the city as my accomplishment It’s always our accomplishment. It’s a team effort.”
O’Donnell’s last job in city administration was in Dixon, Illinois. He was fired from the job in August 2017.
He is aware that news reports about his time in Dixon are out there, but he said there is not a lot he can say about that situation due to the severance agreement.
“Other than there were some personality conflicts and that certainly, I could have done some things better,” said O’Donnell. “It was humbling and something I never want to experience again. As I look back on things that I could have done differently, I will make sure I am doing those things from this point forward.”
O’Donnell said something he plans to do immediately in Keokuk is meet residents and join civic and community groups to learn about Keokuk and what can be done to improve the city.