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Published: Thursday, 2/21/2008

Waterville Council again says 'no' to mayor's picks

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Better, but not good enough.

That was the message Waterville Village Council delivered to Mayor Derek Merrin last week in the continuing standoff over committee and commission appointments.

The mayor submitted a new, expanded list of proposed citizen appointments only to see it rejected by a vote of 4-2. Only he and Councilman Jeff Marty voted in the affirmative.

Voting no were Lori Brodie, John Gouttiere, Tim Guzman, and Jim Valtin. Council member Ann Cherry was absent. Under Waterville's system, the mayor participates in council votes.

Last week's voting occurred in a crowded council chamber, after a succession of citizens stepped to the podium to plead for civility.

Two weeks earlier, only four of the mayor's 36 proposed appointees were approved, and Mr. Merrin, who took office last month, was accused of trying to fill the positions with political supporters, an allegation he denied.

Waterville's charter assigns committee and commission appointments to the mayor, subject to council approval. These panels generally are composed of two council members and citizen volunteers, many of whom bring professional expertise to a committee's area of responsibility.

Mr. Merrin has raised hackles by wanting to replace veteran committee and commission members, some of whom have served for many years, with his own slate of appointees.

Waterville resident Phyllis Hyder told the mayor he was moving too fast. "No other mayor in the past 50 years of Waterville has tried anything so radical," she said.

Mrs. Hyder then spoke in defense of those "who are being discarded," meaning the committee members the mayor did not intend to reappoint.

She acknowledged that many of Mr. Merrin's appointees were well qualified, "but likewise there are a few of the mayor's names whose credentials are being challenged Strong-arm tactics should not be used in the village."

She added that committee veterans should be kept onboard.

One of those committee veterans, Rob Black, president of Waterville Gas and Oil Co., asked Mr. Merrin why he believed he was not qualified to be reappointed to the economic development committee.

He noted that he had a bachelor's degree in economics from Kenyon College, an MBA from the University of Michigan, and was a past president of the Waterville Chamber of Commerce.

"For the record, I never said you were not qualified," the mayor responded.

Mr. Merrin went on to explain that he wanted to try his own slate of appointees because he wasn't satisfied with some of the work of the committees - "I am trying to move in a new direction with my committees We can't put every qualified resident on a committee."

Dave Myerholtz, a former Waterville mayor, said he feared the nonpolitical village government was becoming political. He said he was concerned that under Mr. Merrin's plan, the committees would suffer from a lack of continuity.

When it was time to vote, council again said no.

Councilman Tim Guzman noted the mayor was moving in the right direction with the additional new names. "But this list isn't ready for prime time," he said.

Councilman Jim Valtin agreed.

Mayor Merrin urged council members not to take out their anger at him on his proposed appointees, but couldn't keep the vote from going against him.

Mr. Black said afterward he wished success for the young mayor and the village. "I think it's wonderful to have a young, active mayor, but I'd hate to see a line drawn in the sand," he explained. Mr. Merrin is 22.

Norm Witzler, who lost his council race by four votes in November and was passed over for appointment to the seat vacated by Mr. Merrin when he became mayor, said council was being disrespectful.

"These appointments are the mayor's responsibility," Mr. Witzler said.



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