Following deliberation lasting over an hour Monday evening, the city’s Committee of the Whole has opted to retain Dave Johnson as the city’s administrator. The decision was affirmed moments ago, by the Common Council.
The meeting was called last month when newly elected mayor Derek Woellner publicly called for Johnson’s resignation, following the city’s Personnel and Finance Committee meeting.
Woellner later indicated having given Johnson two separate opportunities for voluntary resignation. The first of which being given the evening prior to his public announcement.
“He immediately refused,” Woellner stated, “So I gave him another day to think it over and asked him to resign once again before Tuesday’s (Personnel and Finance) meeting. Once again, I received an immediate response of ‘no.’ I explained I felt it would be better for the city for him to step down voluntarily, rather than having to call a meeting and potentially terminate his employment. But he wasn’t willing to do that.”
Woellner cited several reasons for the request and subsequent proceedings for an evaluation and discussion of Johnson’s performance; personal conduct and failing to fulfill obligations top Woellner’s list.
“I have witnessed him be rude to others on many occasions before I took office and since I took office in April,” he explained last month. “There are times I have seen him be polite and do things the right way. He has also attended some meetings that he didn’t really have to, and I think that’s wonderful. But other times I have seen him be very condescending and telling people their ideas aren’t good ideas. He has a way of making people feel small or beneath him when he talks to them. There’s just a better way to go about things than that.”
During nearly 40 minutes of public input prior to the Committee of the Whole’s deliberation Monday, sentiments were close to even of both retaining and terminating Johnson’s employment with the city.
City Police and Fire Commission president and former alderman Kurt Helmstadter spoke in support of Johnson Monday, citing his feeling of Johnson’s effectiveness in his position and the two having a positive working relationship on the commission.
“I’ve worked with Dave now for the past eight years on the commission. He has researched each applicant thoroughly and he has made sure to ask appropriate questions which is very important so as not to get you guys in a law suit,” he explained.
“I was involved with many personnel issues with the fire department and police department and he was completely informed of the problems. He even came to my house on a Sunday one time, and that shows dedication. Dave has been a great asset to the Police and Fire Commission and I believe we have a better police and fire department because Dave is the Merrill City Administrator. He’s got the experience. If you guys want to go through that dog and pony show and look for someone as qualified as Dave, good luck!
“The man is smart,” Helmstadter added. “I know he’s a little bit arrogant, but I can ignore that. I’m here to support Dave Johnson, and I hope everyone else does, too.”
Former Merrill Area Housing Authority Director LaDonna Fermanich spoke in favor of Johnson’s dismissal and commended Woellner.
“I commend him (Johnson) for things he has done on behalf of the city, much with the assistance of the Bierman Family Foundation. I don’t know if he would have been as successful without their foundation.
“I believe our new mayor is on to something which deserves your full attention and consideration,” she added. “I am grateful for Mayor Woellner that he has had the courage to begin to ask the tough questions. I am hopeful you as elected representatives will have the courage to heed his words, and the words of others who have directly experienced Mr. Johnson’s rudeness, condescending tones and attempts at manipulation as a means to have others clean up the black eyes of Merrill acquired under his tenure.”
Fermanich cited previous experience working with Johnson as the former Housing Authority director, and her view of Johnson’s poor behavior. Fermanich referenced a particular past meeting where she described Johnson’s behavior as “brash, short, snide and disinterested in hearing what we wanted to propose and why.
“I ask you as our elected representatives to take bold action and remove Mr. Johnson from his position,” Fermanich added. “If you’re not going to do that, at least consider disciplinary reprimand that he begins to conduct himself more positively. You have an opportunity here to be a part of the problem or a part of the solution either way your votes will be remembered.”
While the committee ultimately decided to retain Johnson, their decision did not come without caveat. Upon convening into open session, the committee released the following statement; “The Merrill Common Council has reviewed the issues surrounding tonight’s Committee of the Whole meeting, and has agreed that the Personnel and Finance Committee will closely monitor Dave Johnson’s interactions with our citizens, and expects improvements in some of those interactions.”