Merrill City Government Needs Change

The spring 2022 election will be a hot topic

TINA L. SCOTT
EDITOR

If there’s one thing that many Merrill residents seem to be able to agree on, it’s the general statement that “Merrill city government needs change.” What exactly this change should look like, who should run the city (as elected and appointed staff) and what they should do, however, is the source of great controversy, and that controversy is likely to grow. intensify as Tuesday, April 5, 2022, the spring elections approach.

Last week, on December 28, 2021, the current Mayor of Merrill, Derek Woellner, posted a message on his personal Facebook page, which began with the sentence: “Your municipal government is taken over by ignorant radicals and no one stop them.

His lengthy post continued with Woellner describing some of the events of the December joint council meeting as “F***ING DISGUSTING”; publicly calling out and defaming four city aldermen by name; saying, “I’ve been dealing with these ignorant radicals for years”; and ending with a call to action for more residents to run for office.

The call to action, though readers had to sift through more than a dozen paragraphs of personal opinions and harsh criticism that did little to elevate the public’s positive impression of the Merrill City government , was, 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 tone down the harshness, but it also sounded like a veiled insult: “They’re not bad guys. They are not evil. But they have shown their ignorance and they have shown how radical they are ready to be. They have no place on our board.

His message ended with: “Get your papers before Friday. Hurry.” And then an “Edit: Members of the same group are also running for the county board. Here too, we need you.

Local businesswoman Tina Warner Dengel responded to Woellner’s online post by saying, in part, “How is a mayor swearing and bashing city council members on Facebook the right thing to do?” … By doing so, you are not helping the population of Merrill at all. I just don’t understand all these officials bashing each other and then our kids thinking it’s okay. Just my opinion. I just hope this doesn’t happen in every city on Facebook because it’s pretty childish.

Woellner chose to respond to some of the reader comments on his Facebook post.

For example, LaDonna Fermanich, who will be running for Merrill town government in the next election, said she didn’t disagree with some of the mayor’s comments, but added, “But I totally don’t understand how your method of handling the situation could be considered civil, professional, or productive, but not inconvenient on its own. But of greater curiosity is this; this meeting took place on December 14. Why did you wait until ’till today to return to your practices of public diatribe?”

Woellner responded to him directly, saying, in part, “Did you forget the whole discussion before I left? 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 understood them 100%, that they were knowingly doing what they were doing. I took special care to give them the benefit of the doubt that there may have been a misunderstanding, but their answers couldn’t be clearer. They know the constitution requires the courts to make that decision, and they just don’t trust the courts, so they want to violate the constitution. So yeah, I lost my shit. Frankly, I’m disappointed that the articles are due in a week and that people who would do something so obviously wrong show up unopposed; that’s why today.

A review of the video of the Town of Merrill’s regular December town council meeting revealed that the last item on the agenda was a proposed resolution declaring the town of Merrill a town of the Constitutional Republic. A long speech ensued because the mayor, in particular, took offense. He responded with a proposed amendment to the resolution which was a complete rewrite, which Woellner presented at the time of the meeting. Discussions, disagreements, the mayor accusing members of Council of trying to circumvent the constitution and the courts, heated comments and punches from Mayor Woellner, and motions to table or postpone indefinitely. are followed. Ultimately, the mayor’s amendment was defeated. Then the original resolution was defeated by a 4 to 4 tie vote, Alderman Hass, Blake, Weix and Russell voting no, the Mayor also voted no to break the tie.

Speech and duration on this topic may be of interest to many citizens. Videos of all town 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 Meetings Portal”.

For those who prefer the briefest of recaps, the most telling quotes from the meeting came from Merrill’s mayor and police chief.

When called upon by Mayor Derek Woellner to support his position, Police Chief Corey Bennett replied, “It’s an argument between you two. You can choose to get together and find terms that you agree to or disagree with.
“I understand the concerns…I understand,” Bennett said. “I think everyone here had the same intention at the start… You just want to reiterate your support for the constitution and make sure nothing is unfairly or unduly imposed on our citizens. That’s the intention here. Find a way to talk about it and find a language you can all agree on or drop it.

It was before the votes.

After the votes, Mayor Woellner raised his voice and began a new speech, after scolding Council and the public. “…On January 6, we almost lost our democracy because a bunch of buffoons believed lies! I know the polls – they say this – I don’t want to point it at the Republicans, but the majority of your fucking party believes the election was bogus. I hope you are joking? You don’t believe in elections? Woolner said. So began a rant at which several aldermen made one motion and one second to adjourn, which was initially completely inaudible to the mayor as he continued. Audience members got up and left; Council members have left.

Despite the mayor’s anger, no one else in the room even raised their voices.

When asked if the mayor had any announcements to make, Mayor Woellner threw his hands up and said, “I’m not running, so I’m off balance now.” Are you unlucky? …I was hoping we had a few more months before I let go, but this shit is ridiculous.

[Asterisks mine; the Mayor used full words.]

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