Merrill group hosts Recall Rally, common council members respond to movementSubmitted: 03/20/2019

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MERRILL - Dozens of people in Merrill considered who is representing them in city government. A group is pushing to recall five of the city's eight representatives and held a rally Tuesday night to make their case to their fellow taxpayers. 

"It's now or never," said LaDonna Fermanich, one of the rally organizers.

The Recall Rally was held at Les and Jim's Lincoln Lanes less than a mile away from Merrill City Hall, where a common council meeting was taking place at the same time.

"This is nothing personal for the alderman. We believe you're all of good character," said Steve Sabatke, addressing the council. Sabatke plans to run for Merrill's 8th district seat.

At both the council meeting and rally, the recall movement was on everyone's mind. 

"It really throws a wrench in things," said Mayor Derek Woellner.

Woellner says certain common council actions are now in limbo until it's clear whether or not aldermen Paul Russell, John Van Lieshout, Dave Sukow, Rob Norton, and Tim Meehean will be in a recall election. But the mayor says to a certain extent, he understands why some are pushing for a recall.

"I can't fault them for it for sure, because they felt they weren't being heard and this is one of their options to make sure they are," said Woellner. 
Though the mayor supports their right to ask for a recall, some of the council members the group chose for recall threw him.

"I was surprised to see Paul Russell, the alderman in district one, and Dave Suko, the aldermen in District 6. Those are two people that I think really do their due diligence and in a way are really on the side of the people in this movement," said Woellner. 

Common Council President Rob Norton says he had rumors of the group's plan, so he wasn't entirely surprised when he heard the group named himself and many others on the council for recall. One of the biggest reasons for the recall push was an unexpected raise in Merrill's property tax rate, but Norton says the council has addressed the mistakes and miscommunications that contributed to the issue. 

"For the next upcoming budget we have already made corrections seeing how the last years came through and everything, to prevent it from happening again," said Norton.

Another big complaint for the recall group is that Finance Director Kathy Unertl and City Administrator Dave Johnson weren't held accountable for their part in the budget mistakes. However, both Norton and Woellner say actions were taken, but that under law the council can only discuss personnel matters in closed session.
"Some people don't like that process, but as a government body we have to follow the process," said Norton.

"It's really hard to be communicating with the constituents what exactly is going on because it has to be kept behind closed doors," said Woellner.

Even still, many at the rally believe the city has had issues for a while now, and think a change would be good.

"It's awfully bad the way it is right now, and new blood and new ideas would definitely be a step in the right direction," said Eddie Woody, who lives in Merrill. 

But it all depends on if the recall group can get the signatures they need to make the recall elections happen.

"I'm hoping [people] come to this rally and say 'You know what? For once something's going to get done. Our voices are going to be heard,'" said Becky Meyer, who plans to run for Merrill's 1st district. "Changes are coming to Merrill." 

The group has 60 days to get roughly 100 to 130 signatures from each district to make a recall election happen.

Story By: Dakota Sherek

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