Merrill City Administrator Johnson announces retirement
TINA L. SCOTT
Dave Johnson, Merrill’s City Administrator, announced he will retire from the position, with his last day of work for the City being Oct. 4, 2022.
Johnson began working for the City in April 2012.
“After 40+ years in public sector management, 10+ years of which were spent as Merrill’s City Administrator, I have decided it is time to retire and have submitted my notice to Mayor Hass,” Johnson said in a July 13, 2022, email.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as Merrill’s City Administrator for more than 10 years. I will miss working with our employees and the citizens and businesses of our city. I am leaving with the knowledge of having contributed greatly to the success we have achieved in making our city a better place to live,” Johnson said in his letter to Mayor Steve Hass notifying him of his decision to retire.
“I wish all the best for the City of Merrill in the years to come,” he closed in his letter.
Challenges and successes
Johnson said he was aware of the challenges of his position before he started in the role, having been born and raised in Wausau and with relatives in Merrill.
Merrill had a reputation for good schools, “a fantastic scholarship program,” and being the City of Parks, he said.
But, he added, “Rightly or wrongly, Merrill had always been labeled as a community that did not respond well to change and that preferred not to change.”
“One of my greatest challenges was trying to convince more people that Merrill needed to change. We needed to actively seek new businesses and grow existing businesses, build new homes and apartments, replace aging infrastructure, annex adjoining areas, provide new infrastructure, provide new and updated amenities,” Johnson said.
“I was absolutely dumfounded by those residents who opposed the new Super Walmart shortly after I started working in Merrill,” he said. Johnson credits Val Mindak at Park City Credit Union with the success of that project and added: “That project was the driver in Tax Incremental District (TID) 3 that provided the funding to allow us to move forward with other development projects.”
Johnson said he also faced resistance to some projects from elected Aldermen and appreciates the Aldermen and former Mayor Bialecki who supported both his position and the projects and changes that occurred during his tenure.
“I was equally dumfounded by Aldermen who opposed development and spoke against projects such as the purchase of 6.5 acres of Whispering Pines Trailer Park that contained 9 trailers and now has 4 businesses, the purchase of the Fox Point site that now has 56 apartments, the purchase of the Rock Ridge site that now has 72 new apartments and will soon see 15 new single-family homes completed, the purchase of the far west side Webster Street project that will soon have 36 new apartments, 7 duplexes, and 15 single-family homes,” he said.
Johnson described it as disheartening and said some Aldermen also “oppose the position of City Administrator saying it has too much power and is overpaid.”
In his opinion, “Merrill needs a professional administrator to run the City on a daily basis,” Johnson said. “Aldermen are not elected to manage the City on a daily basis; they are the legislative body that represents the interests of their constituents, makes policy, and approves the budget.”
“There are those who are now working to either weaken the position of City Administrator or do away with it altogether,” he said. “If this is allowed to occur, the City will suffer by that action.”
“City employees do not need micro-management by the Mayor or Aldermen,” he added, suggesting that might occur without a City Administrator.
When asked what advice he would give to the next person who fills his role, Johnson said: ““to follow their conscience, do what they know is right, and do the best they can for our community. Throughout my public service career it has always been my objective to do whatever provides the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens.”
Asked what two things he would most like to be remembered for, Johnson said, “The positive changes that have occurred in Merrill” and “my contribution toward positively changing the image of Merrill both internally and externally.”
“I am proud of our team of Department Heads whom I have supported and who have supported me through some trying times,” he added. “The positive changes that have occurred in Merrill have been the result of a group effort.”
I regards to specific achievements, “I am proud of my effort and success in getting a new fire station, the Aquatic Center, renovations at the Festival Grounds, the Enrichment Center/Expo Hall, the adoption of the River Bend Trail as a Merrill linear park, the development of the former Whispering Pines property, the Weinbrenner expansion, and the housing projects completed and currently underway,” Johnson said. “Merrill needs to continue moving forward in a positive direction, and it is my hope that the majority of citizens in Merrill will vocally support the direction we have going as a community.”
Johnson noted that many successful Merrill projects were also made possible by the Bierman Foundation. “I would like to thank the Bierman Family Foundation for the many things that their generosity has brought to this community such as the Aquatic Center, the Enrichment Center and Expo Hall, the new restrooms at the Festival Grounds, as well as renovation of the Cattle Barn, Steckling Building, and Sell Building, a new fire/rescue pumper for the Fire Department, Jay Stadium, the addition to the Merrill Historical Society, a major contribution to the new Humane Society Building, just to name a few,” he said.
“My thanks go out to the many Merrill business leaders who have supported me over the past 10 years,” Johnson added.
“The City of Merrill would like to thank Administrator Johnson for his years of service to the City and wish him well with his retirement,” Mayor Steve Hass said in response to Johnson’s notice of retirement.
“It would behoove us as a Council to review all of our top positions regularly to see if they need to be expanded, reduced, or even consolidated,” said Mike Caylor, newly appointed Chair of the City’s Personnel and Finance Committee, “I think with a progressive mayor such as Mayor Hass running the City, we will see such an evaluation being done shortly.”
“We will be holding a Committee of the Whole meeting in the near future for succession planning for the position,” Mayor Hass said.
“My wife, Jana, will continue working,” Johnson said. “I intend to spend more time volunteering in the community, spend time in outdoor activities, revamp the four websites that I constructed and maintain, and travel. We already have a trip planned to Italy, and are discussing a trip to Australia and New Zealand. More trips to Europe are in the offing.”