(First published in the August 9, 2018 issue of City Pages)
Merrill’s new mayor called for the city administrator to resign. On Facebook
Merrill Administrator Dave Johnson speaks with a supporter at Monday’s meeting.
It’s not a good time for municipal administrators in central Wisconsin. Only a few weeks ago, Weston Village Administrator Daniel Guild resigned following a 30-day suspension. Then, the newly elected mayor of Merrill made an attempt to get rid of Merrill City Administrator Dave Johnson by calling for his resignation in a Facebook post.
The tension in Merrill came to a head at a meeting last Monday, with an hour of public testimony that was split evenly between those who supported keeping Johnson and those who thought Mayor Derek Woellner was making the right decision. The city council decided to monitor the administrator’s interactions.
Mayor Woellner’s Facebook post (now deleted) about Johnson: “I find his performance to be adequate at best, certainly not worth his salary of 115k.”
Woellner was a political newcomer and just 25 years old when he was elected in April after running on a platform of doing things differently in Merrill. In a lengthy Facebook post July 25, Woellner said he had just asked the administrator to quietly resign, but Johnson refused, so Woellner planned to ask the city council to remove the administrator. Woellner’s post said that, among a number of things, Johnson has failed to stick to the comprehensive, strategic and downtown plans over the past seven years; that he mishandled a situation involving the fire chief’s resignation; and that “from what I’ve seen, I find his performance to be adequate at best, certainly not worth his salary of $115k.”
Woellner says Johnson hasn’t been fulfilling his contract, including simple things such as keeping the website up to date. Johnson has worked as Merrill’s administrator since 2011.
Supporters and detractors speaking during a public hearing that filled Merrill’s council chambers both said that Johnson could be rude, but supporters pointed to his accomplishments, such as helping bring numerous businesses to Merrill. Others said Johnson created an environment that made it difficult for businesses and residents. The owner of Grecian Delight restaurant, Sam Darduk, even accused Johnson of targeting him for citations and violations because of his ethnicity.
After a closed session, the Merrill City Council voted to monitor Johnson’s interactions. Woellner says those details will be discussed at the council’s next meeting.
Both Johnson and Woellner said in interviews after the meeting that they would try to work with each other and Woellner expressed respect for Johnson, despite the public Facebook diss. Woellner deleted the post at some point on or after last Monday.