The Merrill Common Council unanimously approved a charter ordinance Tuesday night eliminating the elected street commissioner position, to be replaced by a Director of Public Works.
Sixth district alderman Dave Sukow abstained.
During a public hearing prior to council discussion, former council president Steve Hass and current City Clerk Bill Heideman spoke in opposition to the ordinance.
Hass cited a recent letter submitted by City Administrator Dave Johnson to local newspapers, in which Hass felt Johnson was favoring the education of an appointed official over the hands-on experience of an elected official.
Hass indicated he was appalled by Johnson’s letter.
“Sometimes life experience is better than what’s in the books,” Hass stated. “Voters can get rid of an elected official easier than the common council can get rid of an appointed official. Some of the officials appointed by the city over the last couple years haven’t been too impressive.”
When Heideman took the floor, he stood from his position beside mayor Bialecki and relocated to the podium, where he voiced his opposition based on personal confidence in city voters to make their own choices, rather than appoint officials.
“Having been born and raised in Merrill, I am comfortable and confident our voters can elect a competent street commissioner,” Heideman said.
Both men spoke of their belief in voters historically selecting qualified and competent candidates.
Retired educator Gene Bebel spoke in favor of the ordinance, stating, “I don’t foresee the street commissioner position being in the best interest of the future of the city.”
During council discussion following a 2nd and 3rd reading of the ordinance, Sukow expressed discontent with how the public hearing process was handled.
“I feel we put the cart before the horse here,” he said. “We should have had this public hearing first, before we even began discussing the ordinance. By doing this, we are sending the message, ‘Ok, we will hear what you have to say, but our minds are already made up.’ I just don’t think this was the right way to go about things and that’s all I have to say.”
Other council members spoke in favor of the ordinance.
Second district alderman Pete Lokemoen stated he was in agreement with Hass and Heideman, but also spoke in favor of the ordinance.
“I do not disagree with what Mr. Hass and Mr. Heideman said. We should work toward appointing better officials,” he said. “But I am not opposed to eliminating the elected street commissioner position. Without certain individuals stirring up and raising the issue, I have found it’s a non-issue with our voters.”
3rd District alderman Ryan Schwartzman echoed Lokemoen, stating he too has not heard any opposition from voters and cited historical references of appointed officials in the city; dating back to the city’s first police chief being appointed.
“I feel the city has moved beyond the need for an elected street commissioner,” Schwartzman said. “Moving into the 21st century, it’s time to bring in a public works director.”
In other matters Tuesday evening, the council unanimously approved a resolution to accept a bid from local contractor and developer Mark Raymer, for the vacant lot located at 501 E. Second St., in the amount of $100.
The council also unanimously approved the ratification of the 2016-2017 contact between the City of Merrill and the International Association of Firefighters Local 847.
According to city attorney Tom Hayden, the charter ordinance eliminating the elected street commissioner position will go into effect in 60 days.
“The effective date will be 60 days after publication,” Hayden said. “The public does have 60 days to start a referendum, but if that is not filed in 60 days the ordinance will be effective.”