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“Refereeing has a lot of similarities to holding political office,” Merriam said, sitting in his high-ceiling, many-windowed townhouse overlooking a pond last week. “You make a lot of tough decisions and no matter what you decide, half the people are mad at you.”
Merriam chaired the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee for six years, followed by 10 years as head of the influential Finance Committee until he left the Senate in 1996. He said he was proud of his work on the Waste Management Act, enacted in 1980, which encouraged more recycling and less landfill use, the Metropolitan Surface Water Management Act of 1982 and the Sustainable Forest Resources Act of 1995.
Guarding public dollars
At the DNR helm, Merriam said he urged staff members to be transparent in their work and how they spent state funds. “We needed to pay attention to how we used money and why,” he said.
The new commissioner had a panoramic view from his office at DNR headquarters in St. Paul.
“I’m up on the sixth floor and I see everything in the parking lot. I see all these cars. I’m wondering, ‘How many do we have?’ ”
He called in the DNR fleet manager, who told him all the cars were needed to quickly serve his customers. Merriam asked who the customers were.
DNR employees, the manager said.
Merriam replied that DNR customers are state taxpayers. He reminded the manager that state executive-branch agencies could request cars from the central motor pool, rather than buy enough to have them constantly available on demand.
“We reduced the number of cars in the inventory,” Merriam said.
Jim Adams • 612-673-7658