Mary Merritt has lived in the City of Sedalia since the 1950s, specifically in Ward 4 since the 1960s, and now she’s putting that experience to work as the Sedalia City Council’s newest member.
Merritt was sworn in as the new Ward 4 council member during Monday’s meeting, joining Councilman Tollie Rowe in representing Ward 4. She told the Democrat after the meeting she had considered running for council before, and decided she couldn’t pass up the opportunity when Mayor Stephen Galliher called.
“We have a government of the people, by the people, for the people and if it’s going to be of the people, by the people, then the people have to be involved. And to not participate in anything, to just stay home and gripe, that’s not going to accomplish anything,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “I think that many people don’t take the responsibility of voting seriously enough. That is where they have their say is at the ballot box.”
When it came to choosing someone to fill the Ward 4 vacancy, Galliher said Merritt seemed like the right choice, and that he’s gotten several compliments on his choice since Monday’s meeting.
“She’s a very intelligent woman, very reasonable, weighs all the information before she makes a decision and she’s not afraid to make a decision,” Galliher said Wednesday. “She’s very interested in the well-being of Sedalia and moving forward like we have been, so she was the logical choice. She’s just an all-around good person. Her passion is Sedalia and she seemed like the right fit for the job.”
In her first venture into city government, Merritt chaired the Citizens for a Clean Sedalia Committee for a few years, and it disbanded in fall 2014 after fulfilling its purpose; the committee was only expected to exist for a few months. Merritt was recognized for her work as chairperson of the committee in May 2015 when she received the Harriet Woods Community Service Award.
“The Clean Up Committee, I was especially interested because I had a few years when the place next door to me was a terrible mess, it was like some of the worst ones here. The council kept saying ‘it’s an out-of-town landlord and it’s vacant and there’s nothing we can do’ and that just aggravated me,” Merritt said. “Of course what you find when you get in there is what it takes to do something. It’s not as simple as people would say to you, ‘well if they would just enforce the laws we have.’ They don’t realize what it takes to enforce the laws and to do it in the manner that doesn’t infringe on the individual privacies that they’re concerned about … To get that vacant lot mowed or that junky house torn down takes a lot more to do than people realize.
“I think that’s what I’m going to find true on the council is that things that seem like they ought to be pretty simple to do, they’re not quite as simple as they seem on the surface.”
Through Merritt’s leadership, the committee submitted more than 10 recommendations to the Sedalia City Council regarding improvements to the city’s appearance, and all but one were approved. Recommendations included improvements to the building inspection department, changes to allowed grass height, and hiring an additional employee for building inspections.
When interviewed last year about Merritt’s award, City Administrator Gary Edwards said she and the rest of the Citizens for a Clean Sedalia Committee made some major changes and laid the groundwork for upcoming issues.
Just as her time on the committee ended, she was appointed to the Public Works Board. Her experience with Clean Sedalia led to her appointment last month to the Rental Inspection Committee, but Galliher chose to replace her with another citizen to prevent the committee’s membership from containing too many council members, as it already included Ward 1 Councilman Jeff Leeman.
Outside of local government, Merritt serves as Co-President of the Pettis County League of Women Voters. Many citizens may recognize her as the moderator of candidate forums hosted by the League.
“Joining the League is what got me interested in government,” Merritt said. “I joined it because it seemed to be a place to learn about both sides of an issue and I still find that’s true. That’s the main point of the League is to be educational.”
She previously worked for Parkhurst Manufacturing until 1996 and retired for a few years before she began working for Ragar Banners, where she is still employed. For years she was active in the American Business Women’s Association and is now a member of Sedalia Business Women.
Merritt said she hopes her business experience, common sense and openness to listening to all sides of an issue will serve her well during her time on council.
“Right now I need to learn what’s in the works, what’s in the pipeline, what’s going on, where it is, what it takes to do it and so I’m not prepared to say I’m for or against anything right now,” she said. “But later I’ll probably have an opinion, and being opinionated I’ll probably voice it. I’ve been accused of that,” she added with a laugh.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.