After leading the Citizens for a Clean Sedalia Committee for more than two years, chairperson Mary Merritt has been recognized for her work by the Missouri League of Women Voters.
On May 2, Merritt received the Harriet Woods Community Service Award in recognition of her successful stint as chairperson of the Clean Sedalia Committee, which ended in fall 2014. Through Merritt’s leadership, the committee submitted between 10 and 15 recommendations to the Sedalia City Council regarding improvements to the city’s appearance, and all but one were approved.
City Administrator Gary Edwards, who submitted Merritt’s letter of recommendation for the award, said she was a “natural.”
“It is an award that, as I understand it, is given to a person who is active and successful with community activities within a community and what Mary did as chairperson for that committee certainly qualifies her for that,” he said. “Harriet Woods was the former lieutenant governor and she was very active in community activities. I was her chief of staff while she was lieutenant governor and she was encouraging community involvement and community improvement, so Mary was a natural for this.”
Merritt was unaware she was receiving the award. It was only when the presenter at the League’s state convention May 2 began reading Edwards’ nomination letter that Merritt realized she had won.
“I was pretty sure I had been nominated, but I had no idea I was getting it until they started to read Gary’s letter during the presentation; he wrote a really fantastic letter,” she said. “They only give this once every two years and they don’t give it out every year, only if someone is nominated that they think is deserving. It’s quite an honor to get it.”
Merritt’s time on the Clean Sedalia Committee was her first venture into city government, but she said after “preaching” that people need to be more involved, it was time to follow her own advice, as she was not satisfied with the city’s appearance.
“I’ve been through times in my neighborhood it would look pretty terrible,” she said. “When you have family and out-of-town guests come, they see some of these places that look like they belong in the junkyard; it’s embarrassing and you want to be proud of your city, and you want whenever anyone comes to think, ‘that’s a nice place, I’d like to live there.’”
Through Merritt’s leadership and the hard work of the committee, several ordinances have been passed by council, laying a foundation for future work in the city.
“(The committee) made some major changes and laid the groundwork for issues coming up, and some of the major success of the committee, with her leadership, included improvements to the building inspection department, making recommendations as far as changes like grass height, they recommended to council an additional person for the building inspection department, which was approved,” Edwards said. “Virtually all of the recommendations were approved by the council … and that’s quite a record. The success the committee had under her leadership was a major reason (Merritt’s award) nomination was made.”
Some of that groundwork includes a recommendation to city staff for looking into a rental property inspection ordinance. Edwards said staff has been researching the issue, with plans to present a recommendation to council at the end of the fiscal year.
Edwards said Merritt and the committee raised awareness “to the need to keep a community strong through appearance, through a clean community.”
“If the community does not have a presentable city, then it hurts economic development, stores and manufacturing plants coming to the city to look at us,” Edwards said. “If we don’t have that clean, crisp appearance, then they’re going to look at Sedalia less favorably, and the committee helped make it stronger, but more importantly laid the groundwork for helping the community’s appearance in the future for economic development purposes, livability purposes — it makes the community more livable.”
Merritt was appointed to the Public Works Board just as her time on the Clean Sedalia Committee was coming to an end. She said she didn’t have much knowledge about the water department, but it’s been “a constant learning experience.”
“Again, it was something I had no idea about our water system and how it worked and it’s been a tremendous learning experience and I’m happy to be on there to find out what’s going on and what we can do to make our community good,” she said.
While she acknowledges the Clean Sedalia Committee had many successful accomplishments, Merritt, like many public servants, said there’s still more work to be done.
“I wish we could have done more,” she said. “When you sit down and look at it, we did accomplish a great deal, but there’s some much more to be done. … But it was an interesting experience and I’m glad that I did it. I would do it again or try to work on something else that might be helpful to make people realize Sedalia is a good place to live.”