Merkle bids au revoir - Mayor led city and council during time of constant change

By Ruth Longoria

A gold-plated rubber chicken, a commemorative Lucite Island statue, and a certificate of recognition plaque were presented to Mayor Alan Merkle during the Dec. 5 City Council meeting. But it took more to say good-bye to this Island icon than just handing him a few tangible parting gifts.

Council members and staff joked of ``roasting the lame duck,'' and laughed at famous Merkle quotes, such as: ``the right answer is,'' ``to summarize,'' and ``let me just throw in my two-cents worth.'' They also ribbed Merkle for his ability to recognize ``Harper Valley P.T.A.'' in ``Name That Tune,'' and the French accent that seems to come upon him every time he speaks of the Island's sister-city, Thonon les Bains, France.

The slightly wacky combination of humorous and somber gifts and remembrances were in honor of the vast collection of fond memories left behind as city staff, council members, community members and law enforcement bid a cheerful and tearful, applause-filled farewell to Merkle.

``We're going to miss him -- I've always looked up to him,'' the diminutive Island resident, Myra Lupton said of the 6-foot-five-inch-tall giant of a man who ended his term of office this month after nearly nine years of mayoral service to the Island.

Merkle, who joined the Council in Jan. 1997, has a lengthy list of accomplishments that can be attributed to his leadership and longevity. Among other accomplishments during his tenure: The city acquired Luther Burbank Park; a new Community Center was built; the Park & Ride was completed; a tree ordinance was passed; and, the Island was connected with its French sister city. Merkle also is credited with gaining recognition for the Island and its unique needs within area cities and the county concerning Islanders' rights regarding future use of the HOV lanes of Interstate 90. Those right had been in question should Sound Transit continue its futuristic plans to reconfigure those lanes and build some form of light rail or rapid transit.

During the Council meeting, Merkle received accolades from Island Police Sergeant Dennis Wheeler, representing the Mercer Island Police Association. Wheeler thanked Merkle for his guidance and support of the Police department, as well as his participation on the Island's Public Safety Committee. A certificate of appreciation given to Merkle by the association reads in part: ``You approach issues in an open minded analytical, and fair manner. Our officers have come to know you as someone who understands police issues, and is supportive of the Police Department goals and mission. Your input and wise counsel as a member of the Public Safety Committee has been very valuable and will be hard to replace.''

Merkle said he was touched by the certificate, and by the line of officers who filed into the Council Chambers to show their appreciation for him on his last official night in office. ``It really meant a lot to me,'' Merkle said. ``I was quite struck by the police Association and the officers.''

He also was moved by the words of councilman El Jahncke, who -- in addition to awarding Merkle with the golden rubber chicken -- praised him somewhat tongue-in-cheek for ``conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty for the benefit of the community and city of Mercer Island and its enemies.'' Jahncke listed some of Merkle's attributes and abilities, including the Mayor's deft handling of ``savage guerrilla attacks from both the left and the right.'' Attacks, Jahncke said, Merkle was able to ``neutralize and render harmless.''

Jahncke also said that Merkle's ``indomitable fighting spirit, great devotion to duty and utter disregard for his own personal safety in the face of powerful enemy fire will be sorely missed.''

In addition to being the Island's mayor for the past six years, Merkle is a lawyer with a Seattle law firm, and a professional engineer. Prior to becoming an attorney, he managed business operations for the General Electric Company. He and his wife, Linda Todd have two adult children, Amanda and Lindsay, both graduates of Mercer Island High School.

Todd said she's proud of her husband's six-years of mayoral service to the community. But she is looking forwarding to spending more time with him, especially on Monday nights, when he has regularly attended council meetings that lasted to 11:30 p.m. or later. ``I've asked him to consider Monday night date nights, at least every other week,'' she said.

Although Merkle got a lot of praise during the Council meeting, he doesn't take sole responsibility and shares the credit for his accomplishments with his staff. ``We have a wonderful staff and it's been a privilege and an honor for me to serve the community, '' Merkle said. ``It's been quite a run.''

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