Recall election date set; Recall organizer, aldermen speak out
Mitchell A. Skurzewski
The Merrill aldermanic recall presses on with an election date now official.
By Tuesday, June 18, nomination papers to run for city council must be filed, with the recall election slated for July 16 (or primaries if necessary).
Tuesday, August 13 has been set for the date of the recall election. If a primary election is required, a primary election date has been set for, Tuesday, July 16. A primary will be necessary if more than two people run for a post and no one garners 50 percent of the vote.
The recall organizers have also recently announced that they have opponents for each district’s current alderman. The five aldermen up for recall are: 1st District Alderman Paul Russell, 5th District Alderman John VanLieshout, 6th District Alderman Dave Sukow, 7th District Alderman and current Council President Rob Norton, and 8th District Alderman Tim Meehean.
“It hasn’t been an easy road,” explains LaDonna Fermanich, one of the recall organizers.
“But I believe we have impacted change, whether none, or two or all of the five are defeated in the voting process. We have support and our voices have been heard.”
Those challenging for aldermanic seats will be: 1st District Becky Meyer; 5th District Shannon Collins; 6th District Nicole Rehwinkel; 7th District Eric Dayton; 8th District Steve Sabatke.
All five aldermen up for recall have put in appeals on the recall signatures being approved, stating the recall information was on the back of the forms and those asked to sign were just asked if they wanted lower taxes. Both the recall organizers and the aldermen are being vocal on the recall.
“There just isn’t truth to some of the things those doing the recall are saying, it’s really that simple,” 1st District aldermen Paul Russell said. “I think we are being judged on a financial error and not firing city employees right off the bat. There will be mistakes made in every level of government because it is run by human employees just like a private business. These employees aren’t perfect but have rights and due process must be followed as does our accountability to the public. But, everything I do is in an effort to try and make Merrill a better place.”
VanLieshout says he knows he has support in his fifth district. He questions the support the recall actually has, he said.
Russell said a big factor for those doing the recall is the city council not firing City Administrator Dave Johnson, but said, “You can’t just condemn people for making a single mistake. The whole of the performance as city managers is evaluated and that is what the Personnel and Finance Committee is doing (now). In addition we are fixing the budget mistake in the 2020 budget.”
Recently an independent audit showed that recent investments in the community were good moves and was trending Merrill in the right direction.
“We have done more in my time as administrator than Merrill had done in three decades previously,” Johnson said. “We are doing jobs now, the complete job to improve the city and not having to do them over again, which was happening regularly in the past. We are working to move the city forward. Recalling the elected officials will not be better for the city of Merrill.”
Russell said he remembers when he was in Park Place in his office and during back-to-back years, he saw construction workers digging up the same spot of the road. “We aren’t piecemealing these things anymore and are doing things right,” he said.
Fermanich and Mark Bares, another recall committee member and organizer, have said the recall is “nothing personal” and the recall is about more than just the financial error. They have said that was just the final straw that pushed them over the edge to start the recall process.
VanLieshout and Russell say the recall is a vendetta or personal attack.
But, recall organizers say the financial error, the city being about $25 million in debt and rubber stamping approvals without much to show, are key negative factors behind their recall efforts.
“The elected officials estimated a 3 percent increase in taxes, they could have taken action and go back to the drawing board and they chose not to,” Fermanich said. “Who do we hold accountable? “It’s very upsetting to see 7.4 percent for the city portion of taxes on your bottom line. We are holding those elected accountable and giving a voice back to the taxpayers.”
VanLieshout says he doesn’t think people realize the level of community involvement he or any of the council members are engaged in, besides City Council.
“I am part of the American Legion, I am on a lot of boards, Other council members are on a lot of boards,” he said. “I lead the Boy Scout troop my son is involved in. I want what is best for the community. I don’t think people are aware how much we are involved with and how much we want the city to succeed.”
While Russell doesn’t agree with the recall, he says citizens should be involved in government.
“I think people should have their voice and be involved in government,” Russell said. “But, where were those doing the recall before the tax error? They weren’t at any meetings. I encourage people to be at meetings and have a voice during public comment. It shouldn’t be a part-time thing.
“I don’t think the intent of the state law governing recalls was made for people to submit a petition for a laundry list of complaints against two-year term alderpersons. By the time this concludes we may only be six months from the general election.”