- Don Merkes has been mayor of the City of Menasha for almost 16 years, but Tuesday morning he announced he would not be running for reelection.
- Merkes looks back on all that he's accomplished: what he's proud of, and what he'd do differently.
- He has not yet endorsed a candidate to replace him, but he looks ahead at what the next mayor needs to know.
(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story, with some additional details)
After 16 years as the mayor of Menasha, Don Merkes has announced he will not be running for reelection.
As the city's 40th mayor, Merkes is proud of Menasha. But he wants to make room for new growth.
“We've done so many great things in Menasha that I think it's time for new ideas, fresh ideas. I'm really excited to see what the next generation is going to do.”
On Tuesday morning, he announced that he's decided not to run for reelection.
And while he's excited to spend time out of the public eye, he still has a few things he wants to finish working on before it's time to pass the torch.
“We've got a little bit of work to do on Jefferson Park yet. A few more things we need to do with High Cliff connection,” said Merkes.
Merkes said his proudest achievements include community development, trail system updates, creating a solar system on the new Public Works Facility, and Tree City designations that have helped with carbon reductions.
He said his background in architecture set him on a path that started him as an alderman for the 1st District in 2005 before he was elected mayor in 2008.
The shift from working on policies to implementing goals included the creation of a new marketing video that introduced the city's new slogan "Your Place on the Water."
With the benefit of hindsight, Merkes said there are a few things he'd change.
“Some of the initial development agreements I might have done slightly differently… I think I probably would have worked a little bit more with our two townships that incorporated to try to even those boundaries out a little bit better,” he said.
But he entered his office at a time when the city was facing possible bankruptcy and addressed it by taking out a loan against the electric utility. He said the results speak for themselves.
“We were amongst the highest tax rates in the Fox Cities. And now we're right in the middle. And that was one of my goals when I started,” said Merkes, "is: how do we get our tax rate to a point where we're competitive with everyone else?"
Looking forward, Merkes said the incoming candidates will be facing budgeting issues, maintaining a well-staffed workforce, and housing issues."
“And then just that loss of knowledge when someone leaves, and how do you pull all that institutional knowledge back and be able to use those things again?” he added.
Merkes is not endorsing any candidate yet.
But whoever is chosen, he said one qualification is a must.
“I think it's more of a love for your community. And then working to make that community the best that it can be. That's really what the qualifications are. The rest of it you can learn,” he said.
Elections for Menasha's next mayor will be held on April 4, 2024.