Merrill city showdown

(First published in the August 22, 2019 issue of City Pages)

Merrill Mayor wants to eliminate the city administrator position to save money after last year’s tax hike


Merrill Mayor Derek Woellner addresses several dozen people about his proposal to eliminate the administrator’s position.

First, Merrill scheduled a city council meeting for Tuesday to discuss eliminating the administrator position, currently held by Dave Johnson, plus a separate special council meeting on the topic. Both those meetings were canceled, but Merrill Mayor Derek Woellner showed up anyway, and the gathering of interested residents turned into informal, and at times chaotic, townhall question and answer session.

Mayor Woellner says the city administrator position will now be considered during the 2020 budget meetings. But that doesn’t mean the mayor isn’t committed to pushing the plan forward. “Although I think the elimination of the city administrator position is the best move, it should really be part of our overall budget discussion so that we receive appropriate input from the public,” Woellner wrote on Facebook. “I would still like to maintain an aggressive timeline on this item since severance for the position is already eating into next year’s budget.”


Merrill Administrator Dave Johnson pushes back against a plan to eliminate his position.

This is not the first time Woellner made a move against Johnson. Woellner in July 2018—three months after he was elected at age 25—used Facebook to call for the administrator to resign, and following Johnson’s refusal, called on the city council to remove him. The subsequent meeting ended with Woellner and Johnson agreeing to try to get along.

But now Woellner is calling for the elimination of the position all together. Woellner on Tuesday evening said the city needs to cut $200,000 from its budget, and eliminating the administrator’s position would save about $70,000. Under the plan, Woellner says he would work full time as mayor on a part time salary, but the next mayor would receive a full-time salary, likely in the $40,000 range. The cut is one of several he plans to announce, but said he wanted to put this one out first because he knew it would be controversial.

Several dozen people on Tuesday, both supporters and detractors of the plan, took turns asking the young mayor questions, challenging his proposal, and challenging each other in a meeting that was often contentious and included Johnson himself.