Hass, Blake appointed to vacant council seats
Tuesday evening, the city’s Common Council unanimously approved the appointments of Steve Hass and Richard Blake to the vacant 2nd and 3rd District Aldermanic seats, respectively. The appointments came upon recommendation by the Committee of the Whole immediately prior to the council meeting.
The vacancies were created initially by the resignation of long-time third district Alderman Ryan Schwartzman in late August. Schwartzman was appointed council president during the council’s organizational meeting in April.
2nd District Alderman Pete Lokemoen’s resignation was effective mid-September.
The committee heard presentations from four applicants for the vacant positions; Hass and Mike Willman vying for the 2nd District seat, Eric Ott and Blake vying for the 3rd District seat.
As part of their respective presentations, Hass cited previous experience as 2nd District Alderman and council president in expressing interest for the seat.
Hass served as 2nd District Alderman for 10 years, from 2004-2014, and council president from 2008-2014. Hass stated he chose not to run for re-election to the seat due to personal reasons, but has since maintained an interest in city government.
“When Pete (Lokemoen) stepped down, I received several phone calls from those in my district encouraging me to apply,” Hass stated Tuesday. “So I decided to throw my hat in the ring.”
Willman also cited previous experience serving on the council (1994-2004) as well as a career with the Wisconsin DNR from which he is now retired, serving in several capacities, including manager of the Council Grounds State Park.
Hass would ultimately prevail by paper ballot vote; 4-3. Mayor Derek Woellner, 1st District Alderman Paul Russell, 4th District Alderman Steve Osness and 6th District Alderman Dave Sukow voting in favor.
During presentations from 3rd District applicants, neither Blake nor Ott brought previous council experience to the podium, but cited their respective motivating factors in applying for the seat.
Blake presented over 20 years of service to the community; including employment with special needs students within MAPS, volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity, 15 years of serving on the city’s Transit Commission and most recently assisting those with developmental disabilities at Our Way, Inc.
“I really see this as a way I can give back to the Merrill community which has really given me a lot over the years,” Blake said, “It’s important to me to make sure I give back.”
Ott cited his campaign versus Schwartzman in the April election, of which he fell short by 41 votes. He cited a sincere desire to serve the community and when asked by Osness, of his recent effort to raise funds for the restoration of vandalism damage sustained by local cemeteries; Ott indicated $10,350 raised to date.
“When I ran against Mr. Schwartzman earlier this year, I didn’t do it because of anything personal or because I thought he was doing a bad job,” Ott stated. “I did it out of love for the city. I have a passion for the city of Merrill. I always had a great deal of respect of Ryan as did members of the community. I actually considered a bid for Mayor, however I listened to advice of community members and members of the council, who told me I should get an idea of how things work in a lesser position first. Unfortunately for Ryan, he was the one who stood in my way and he was the one I had to run against.”
Blake would go on to prevail by 4-3 vote; Woellner, Osness and Sukow dissenting.
The committee also recommended both candidates serve the remainder of the aldermanic terms for their respective seats through April 2020.
During discussion, Sukow initially spoke in opposition to the motion made by council president Rob Norton.
“I’m not in favor of this. The gentlemen applying are familiar with the process of getting signatures and will have no problem doing so,” Sukow stated.
Norton argued the appointments serving the remainder of the term would provide more continuity for the council, versus a six month term expiring in April of 2019.
“I have to agree,” 7th District Alderman Tim Meehean added, “I don’t want to hamstring ourselves. I can’t see how we can lose by going ahead with the full term.”
Norton’s motion for the appointees to serve through the remainder of the current aldermanic cycle would prevail 5-2; Woellner and Osness dissenting.
“All of the candidates tonight brought a lot to the table,” new council president Norton said Tuesday night. “The council had tough choices to make tonight and I think the 4-3 votes for both seats showed that. The diversity of experience Mr. Blake will bring to the council will be a huge asset. He has spent many years serving our community in various capacities and I think that will be an asset in itself, I’m looking forward to serving with him.”
Norton’s sentiments were seemingly positive for the second district candidates.
“Both Mike and Steve brought years of experience in city government to the podium tonight,” Norton said. “I know they both would have served the city well. But the council chose Steve and to be honest, I’m not really sure what else can be said for him. Steve has years of experience serving the city both as an alderman and council president.
“I’m still trying to follow in his shoes as the new council president,” Norton added. “It will be great to have Steve back in the chair and progress with us. His experience will prove valuable to the city and the council as we move forward.”