Wheels in motion on aldermanic recall effort

Mitchell A. Sturzewski

An organized effort to unseat five city aldermen took a key step forward Tuesday, as recall committee member Mark Bares and other supporters filed their recall petition consisting of over 700 signatures, with the office of City Clerk Bill Heideman.

Bares says that the group knows that each district will have candidates to run against the current aldermen in another election for Districts 1 and 5, through 8.
“It wasn’t a difficult task,” said LaDonna Fermanich, a spokesperson for the recall group; on getting signatures. She went on to say that the group hopes to “accomplish two things:  to help return a voice back to the taxpayers and to remind elected officials who they work for, the citizens of Merrill.” According to Bares, the last straw leading up to the recall effort was when Merrill residents were levied a 7.4 percent tax increase, when they were told to expect a 3 percent hike; causing widespread confusion. Longtime financial director Kathy Unertl had incorrectly calculated the tax rate when presenting the budget to city council in November, and she received a warning.

“There were over 150 complaints and through the whole process there was a ‘oh we’ll do better next time’” attitude, a lot of excuses,” Bares said. “All this and just a lot of secrecy and not answering questions…we just want accountability (from those in office).”

In total, 724 signatures were turned in Tuesday, while only 617 were required.

Here is a voting breakdown of the signatures the recall group has received by district: District 1 (Paul Russell) 137 signatures, 127 needed; District 5 (John VanLieshout) 163 signatures, 116 needed; District 6 (Dave Sukow) 152 signatures, 134 needed; District 7 (Rob Norton-Common Council President) 148 signatures, 131 needed; District 8 (Tim Meehean) 124 signatures, 109 needed.

“I really didn’t know what to expect, but we had to do something,” Fermanich said. “When the mayor says not to take it out on city employees but city officials…gauntlet thrown gauntlet accepted. There have been issues with city administration and how people are treated when they come to conduct business. There’s not a lot of transparency and there’s not a lot of respect given to questions being asked. It’s frustrating because we should be able to ask questions and get respectful answers. There is a lack of accountability. There needs to be a better paper trail. They are spending money and we have no idea where it’s going, or where it’s being spent,” Fermanich added.

“We keep hearing we are against progress and that’s not the case. We just want the city to be fiscally responsible,” Bares said.
“They are throwing darts at a dartboard (with spending) all over the place hoping something sticks and so far, they are missing the mark,” Fermanich added.
Steve Sabatke, who plans to run in District 8 if the recall is approved, says that the spending is out of control and it’s time for change. “We don’t know what’s going to happen but we have to pump the brakes on the spending,” Sabatke said. “Merrill is an elderly community and quite a few are on a fixed income. There are a lot of scared people out there.”

According to City Clerk Heideman, if all goes as the recall committee hopes a recall election could be held as early as July 2, but there is process to be followed.

“Filing the petition is the first step and they did that Tuesday along with turning in their signatures. We now have 31 days from the time the petition is filed, to verify the signatures. As part of the verification process we assure addresses and names of signers are valid and meet various requirements. Once the signatures are certified, an election is then set for the sixth Tuesday following certification,” Heideman explained.

“While the aldermen being recalled automatically appear on the ballot, those wishing to challenge them must acquire 20-40 signatures from their respective districts. The signatures must be acquired and turned in to my office no later than the close of business hours on the 4th Tuesday following signature certification.”

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