On Nov. 8 of last year, city voters were presented with a referendum asking whether or not to eliminate the current position of an elected city street commissioner. When the votes were tallied, over 60% of voters preferred to keep the elected position versus that of an appointed position.
In the four months since the election, the city has not yet taken action on the referendum results. During the public comment portion of the Feb. 22 Board of Public Works meeting, City Clerk Bill Heideman questioned the lack of action thus far and requested progress.
“Today, I would like to speak on the City of Merrill referendum held as part of the Nov. 8, 2016 election.” Heideman stated. “To refresh your memory, the referendum question dealt with the retention or elimination of the elected Street Commissioner position. No doubt most, if not all, of us in this room had an opinion on this, and we used the ballot box to express that opinion last November. We did so knowing that fair and honest elections are the cornerstone of a democracy.
“The results of the referendum may not have risen to the level of a landslide, but they certainly sent a clear message – 1,468 residents voted YES to eliminate the elected Street Commission position. However, 2,238 voted NO. That margin is approximately 60% to 40%.
“386 voters who voted in that election opted to not vote YES or NO on the Street Commissioner referendum question. Hypothetically, even if all 386 had voted YES, the NO votes would have still prevailed by a margin of 2,238 to 1,854. The clear message is this: The people of Merrill want to retain an elected Street Commissioner. Regardless of your personal opinion, the numbers do not lie, and facts are facts.
“The petition that was submitted and led to the referendum was not an indictment, or even an evaluation, of the quality of work being performed by those that have assumed the duties formerly handled by the elected Street Commissioner. The referendum, as well as the results, are an entirely separate issue.
“If there is a plan to address the referendum results, then the public has the right to know the details of that plan. If there is no plan, then the time to begin is now. Planning is an integral part of quality leadership, so I urge you leaders to either publicize any plans already made, or begin the planning process, immediately and publicly, now that this elected position has been retained. Thank you for your time.”
Due to procedure regarding public comment, committee members did not immediately react to Heideman’s statement.
City Administrator Dave Johnson said Monday that the post can remain vacant until the current term of retired commissioner Dick Lupton expires in April 2018.
“The mayor has yet to appoint anyone to the position,” Johnson stated. “He is under no legal obligation to do so. The current Street Commissioner position is vacant and can remain vacant until the next election, unless the council deems otherwise.”
According to Mayor Bill Bialecki, he has no intention to appoint an interim Street Commissioner.
“I won’t be appointing anyone,” he stated. “At the end of the year, anyone interested can take out nomination papers for the election and it can go from there. The council hasn’t budgeted any money for a street commissioner position. So even if I did appoint someone, how would it be paid for? And well, everything has been running great so far, so I don’t see the sense in changing anything.”