Merrill City government needs change
The Spring 2022 Election will be a hot topic
TINA L. SCOTT
If there is one thing many Merrill residents seem to be able to agree on, it is the general statement that “Merrill City government needs change.” Exactly what that change should look like, who should be running the City (as both elected and appointed personnel), and what they should do, however, is the source of great controversy, and that controversy is likely to heat up even more as the Tuesday, April 5, 2022, Spring Election draws near.
Last week on Dec. 28, 2021, Merrill’s current Mayor, Derek Woellner, posted a post on his personal Facebook page, which began with the sentence: “Your city government is being taken over by ignorant radicals and nobody is stopping them.”
His lengthy post went on with Woellner describing some of the events of the Dec. Common Council meeting as “F***ING DISGUSTING;” calling out and publicly shaming four City Aldermen by name; saying, “I’ve been dealing with these ignorant radicals for years;” and concluding with a call to action for more residents to run for office.
The call to action, though readers had to get through more than a dozen paragraphs of personal opinion and harsh criticism that did little to elevate the public’s positive impression of Merrill City government, was to, in Woellner’s words,
“Please, please consider running for office. Merrill needs you.”
Woellner singled out four Merrill City Aldermen with whom he has had long-standing differences of opinion and said, “I’m writing because most of these guys are running again unopposed. I can’t run in four different districts. I need you.” [At least one of those Alderman has publicly stated he took offense to Woellner’s post.]
At one point, he tried to temper the harshness, but that read like a veiled insult, as well: “They aren’t bad guys. They aren’t evil. But they’ve shown their ignorance, and they’ve demonstrated how radical they’re willing to be. They have no place on our council.”
His post concluded with: “Get your papers before Friday. Hurry.” And then an “Edit: members of the same group are also running for county board. We need you there too.”
Local businesswoman, Tina Warner Dengel, responded to Woellner’s online post saying, in part: “How is a Mayor swearing and bashing city council members on Facebook the right thing to do? … By you acting this way does not help Merrill’s population at all. I just don’t understand all these officials bashing each other and then our children thinking that’s ok. Just my opinion. I am just hoping that every city doesn’t have this happen on Facebook as it’s pretty childish.”
Woellner opted to respond to some of the comments readers made on his Facebook post.
For instance, LaDonna Fermanich, who will be running for office in Merrill’s City government in the upcoming election, said she did not disagree with some of the Mayor’s comments but added: “But I definitely don’t understand how your method of handling the situation could be seen as civil, professional, or productive, yet alone not embarrassing. But of greater curiosity is this; this meeting occurred on December 14th. Why have you waited until today to revert to your public ranting practices?”
Woellner responded to her directly saying, in part: “Are you forgetting the whole discussion before I went off? I asked direct questions. I informed the alderman that their resolution was unconstitutional. The other Aldermen informed them. The city attorney informed them. I made sure that I 100% understood them, that they were knowingly doing what they where doing. I took special care to give them the benefit of the doubt, that maybe there was some misunderstanding, but their responses could not be more clear. They know the constitution has the courts make that decision, and that they simply don’t trust the courts, so they want to violate the constitution. So yea, I lost my sh**. Frankly I’m disappointed that papers are due in a week and the people that would do something so blatantly wrong are running unopposed; that’s why today.”
A review of the video from the December City of Merrill Common Council – Regular Meeting revealed the final item on the agenda was a proposed resolution declaring the City of Merrill to be a Constitutional Republic City. A lengthy discourse ensued because the Mayor, in particular, took offense to this. He responded with a proposed Amendment to the resolution that was an entire rewrite, which Woellner presented at the time of the meeting. Discussion, disagreements, the Mayor accusing members of the Council of trying to circumvent the constitution and the courts, some heated comments and desk-pounding on the part of Mayor Woellner, and motions to table or postpone indefinitely ensued. Ultimately the Mayor’s amendment was voted down. Then the original resolution was voted down by a 4-4 tie vote, with Aldermen Hass, Blake, Weix, and Russell voting no, ended in the Mayor also voting no to break the tie.
The discourse and length of time on this matter may interest many citizens. Videos of all City of Merrill public meetings [since they started videotaping them] are available for review on the City’s webpage at https://www.ci.merrill.wi.us/ under “Public Meeting Portal.”
For those who prefer just the briefest of recaps, the most telling quotes of the meeting came from the Mayor and Merrill’s Chief of Police.
When called upon by Mayor Derek Woellner to support his stance, Police Chief Corey Bennett responded: “This is an argument amongst yourselves. You guys can either choose to come together and find terms you agree on or not.”
“I understand the concerns … I get it,” Bennett said. “I think everyone here had the same intention at the beginning of this … You just want to reiterate your support for the constitution and make sure that there’s nothing unfairly or unduly forced upon our citizens. That’s the intent here. Find a way to talk about it and come up with language that you can all agree on or table it.”
That was before the votes.
After the votes, Mayor Woellner raised his voice and began a new discourse, after scolding the Council and the public. “ … January 6th we almost lost our democracy because a bunch of buffoons were believing lies! I know the polling – they say that – I don’t want to point it on Republicans, but the majority of your frickin’ party believes that the election was fake. Are you kidding me? You guys don’t believe in the elections?” Woellner said. So began a rant at which point several alderman made a motion and second to adjourn, which was initially entirely unheard by the Mayor as he continued. Members of the public got up and left; members of the Council left.
Despite the Mayor’s upset, no one else in the room even raised their voice.
When asked if the Mayor had any announcements, Mayor Woellner threw his hands up in the air and said, “I am not running, so I’m unhinged now. Aren’t you guys lucky? … I was hoping we had a couple more months before I let loose, but this sh**’s ridiculous.”
[Asterisks mine; the Mayor used full words.]