By Judy Reed
Last Thursday’s Cedar Springs City Council meeting wasn’t memorable for any ordinances passed or any breaking news. It was memorable, though, for one reason—after 28 years of serving the people of Cedar Springs, it was Ronny Merlington’s last meeting as a City Councilor.
Merlington said he wasn’t at all nervous about his last meeting. “I was all pumped up for it,” he said.
A reception was held prior to the meeting so that friends, colleagues and residents could celebrate with him and wish him well. Several proclamations were read from top legislative officials, including Governor Jennifer Granholm, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Sen. Carl Levin, Rep. Vern Ehlers, Kent County Commissioner Roger Morgan, and another signed by the governor, Rep. Tom Pearce, and Sen. Mark Jansen. One that meant a lot to him was handwritten by City Councilor Pat Capek.
“I don’t know if it brought more tears to my eyes or to hers,” quipped Merlington.
City Clerk Linda Branyan did some lengthy research on Merlington and put it all in a proclamation as well. One of the things gleaned from that is that Merlington was the longest serving City Councilor in Cedar Springs. “I didn’t know that,” he said.
Ronny has been involved in government much of his life. Branyan noted that “He developed his love of politics while helping his father run for State Representative by working on his campaign, attending meetings in smoke filled rooms and handing out flyers…” He also taught government at Sand Lake and at Cedar Springs High School for 38 years. While there, he helped negotiate the first 18 teacher contracts. That expertise helped him when he became a city councilor. “I knew we were not paying city employees enough to pay their bills,” he recalled. He helped implement a fair wage with a good pension, and fringe benefits such as medical and dental insurance.
It’s hard for him to name one thing he’s most proud of. “Just serving this community and having been reelected for 7 consecutive terms,” he said.
But a lot has been accomplished by the council since he stepped on board in 1982. “I’ve seen so much change and all of it good,” recalled Merlington. “I didn’t do it. The council and residents allowed us to do it,” he noted.
Some of the big accomplishments while he was on the council included the 425 agreement with Solon Township, which brought city water up 17 Mile Road and White Creek for area businesses. “That really kicked off growth for the highway/commercial district,” he said.
The decision to build the wastewater treatment plant was another. “We didn’t have a permit to expand the lagoons and they were already not working properly,” he explained. “We went to the townships and no one wanted to buy in.” They ended up in court in a bitter dispute with Algoma Township, but in the end, successfully got it financed and built about 12 years ago. Part of the court order said they had to put $50,000 into a fund for a future staging area for the White Pine Trail, and they now used that money to get the matching grant for the staging area that will be built this month.
He pointed to the buying of the property for Veterans Park as foresight on the part of the council. But one thing he hasn’t seen is a new library. “That’s one thing we still need,” he said. “I’m excited about that area (where the new library will be built) and I hope it’s not forgotten.”
The DDA Façade program and street reconstructions are other things he mentioned. “I’m proud of all those things,” he noted.
During his years of service on the City Council, Merlington reportedly served as Mayor Pro Tem 15 years, and Mayor for three years. He worked with six City Managers; three City Treasurers; two City Clerks; four Assistant City Managers; three Police Chiefs; four Mayors; 22 Councilors and numerous staff members.
Merlington said there is hardly any committee that he hasn’t served on. He has served on the Zoning Board of Appeals since it began in 1983 and has been Chair since 1985. He has never missed any of the 117 meetings held over the years.
Branyan said he may be best known for his passion for uncapping the old flowing well at the corner of Main and Maple Streets, and that his legacy will be his ability to recall the history behind decisions that were made and the “eagle eye” he kept on the City’s finances often telling new Councilors “to be good stewards of the City’s Fund Balance.”
Merlington remarked that the city has been fortunate in a poor economy to not have more budget problems. “We haven’t had to cut personnel. They still have a steady job. We’ve tightened our belt—but we’ve always lived within a tight budget. We’re accustomed to it,” he explained.
He also noted that he thinks the city will continue to grow, and he hopes someday the linear park along Cedar Creek that they dreamed about will come to fruition. “Will I see it in my lifetime? I don’t know. But you have to have goals and keep reaching for them,” said Merlington.
The Cedar Springs Post salutes Ronny Merlington for his years of dedicated service, and wishes him well in all he does!