David Johnson is easing into his new job as Merrill City Administrator, starting part-time on April 24. He will be working full-time as of May 14.
Johnson, who most recently served as county administrator for Wabasha County, Minn., is a native of Wausau.
“It was my intention to come back to Central Wisconsin,” Johnson said. “This will hopefully be my last job before I retire.”
Johnson has been attending city meetings, getting to know people in the community, and meeting with department heads and city council members.
“I’m getting my feet wet a little more slowly,” he said.
One of Johnson’s tasks as city administrator will be to promote economic development. Merrill is not unique in its need to bolster the tax base to support the local economy.
“Merrill has a manufacturing economy based on millwork and that’s what we need to diversify,” he said. “When housing takes a dive it hits our biggest industry here.”
Merrill has the tools to make it attractive to businesses, including access to a transportation system, and a trained or trainable workforce, Johnson said.
“You have to sell the community to the business,” he said. “You have to show them it’s a nice place to locate their business. You sell them on the amenities you can offer to the business and to their employees.”
For example, he noted that Merrill has a wonderful library, a very nice park system, water features and programs for children.
“One thing I have to be for this city is a salesperson, and you have to believe in your product,” he said. “I believe we have things to offer people.”
Merrill should also capitalize on its proximity to the Northwoods.
“We can’t move, we just have to make ourselves attractive. We have to pull people off of I-39,” he said.
Johnson will also be responsible for supervising city departments, ensuring they run efficiently and effectively.
“We need to make sure departments have the resources to get the job done, given our financial constraints,” he said. “It’s not my role to micromanage department heads.”
While the council creates policy, the city administrator takes care of the day to day operation of the city. Johnson said he’ll be working closely with the city attorney, mayor, finance director and city council.
“It will be up to me to implement and enforce (the council’s directives), and make sure the budget is spent judiciously,” he said.
Johnson is an advocate of including people who would be impacted by decisions in the decision-making process.
“We should listen to the concerns of citizens and city staff,” he said. “On things that impact the entire community, we ought to be getting feedback from the entire community.”
Johnson has over 30 years of government administration experience. Prior to serving as Wabasha County administrator, he served as city administrator for Valley City, ND. He also previously held government positions in Louisville, KY, and Indianapolis, IN. He holds masters degrees in political science and public administration.