Dannen Merrill sat at a corner table in the Board Game Cafe with the large rectangular windows showing rows of small businesses on his back, talking about the importance of helping them. For Merrill, his desire to serve and his experience in finance and accounting led him to apply for a seat on the city council in April.
Merrill, the second youngest of seven children, said he was permeated with his community from a young age. He and his four brothers are all Eagle Scouts, and most of his family have spent most of their careers in the civil service. For most of his life that desire to serve was for one ward: Maryville.
The 29-year-old auditor is a local. Merrill has lived in the small town in central Nodaway County most of his life, earning diplomas as both a spoofhound and a bearcat.
As a spoofhound, Merrill was heavily involved in extracurricular activities. The former national champion wrestler, band member and soccer player was used to filling his schedule with obligations. He would come to the band early in the morning and stay until the sun went down to do the exercises for each sport of the season.
One of the more fundamental experiences of his high school career was Missouri Boys State. The program gathers hundreds of high school juniors from schools across Missouri and places them on the University of Central Missouri campus for a week during the summer.
The boys essentially run their own state and local governments and learn about the Missouri system of government through hands-on experience. He volunteered for the Missouri Boys State for a decade. He is currently treasurer of the program.
“This was another chance to give me a commitment to serve others and your community,” said Merrill of his 2009 attendance at Missouri Boys State.
His tenure in the Northwest could be characterized much like his high school career: full of commitments. During his time in the Northwest, Merrill was a member of Phi Sigma Kappa, a board member of St. Jude’s Up ’til Dawn, and a member of the Northwest Student Senate.
During his undergraduate studies, Merrill gained firsthand experience with the city council and local government, serving as the Senate liaison, attending council meetings, and reporting to students on campus on what was going on.
“He showed up and played the role, and I think that’s why I knew he was really serious about it and had an interest in it,” said Renee Riedel, former mayor and councilor during Merrill’s tenure as the city’s liaison.
Riedel joked that Merrill was always best dressed at meetings and in full business attire when she and her fellow councilors often wore jeans. Merrill’s passion for local government and serving that way was also evident during his studies, Riedel said.
Debrielle Patee-Merrill, Merrill’s younger sister who now serves as Student Senate Vice President and Student Ambassador, saw her older brother’s involvement in so many things in the Northwest as “a guiding light for her.” Patee-Merrill spent much of her high school career getting the “DI Experience” at a major college, but Merrill gave her some words of wisdom that drove her to become a bear-cat.
“In these huge schools you will be a minnow trying to survive in the ocean. But in the northwest you can be a shark in Colden Pond. “Said Patee-Merrill, remembering her brother’s advice.
“I remember thinking (then) that this was the stupidest thing he ever said,” said Patee-Merrill. “And now I say that on almost every tour I do.”
After Merrill’s stint as “Shark in Colden Pond,” he moved to work at the major accounting firm BKD, LLP in Kansas City, Missouri, where he was certified as a CPA.
While at BKD, he was a partner and operator of the local bar, The Outback. When Merrill got back for Christmas in 2017, he went to the local accounting firm Marsh, Espey & Riggs PC – CPAs to ask a payroll question for the bar. As the conversation progressed, then-partner Jerry Riggs told Merrill of his desire to retire and looked for a young CPA to take him on. Merrill joined the company a few months later and officially bought Riggs out in 2019, making Marsh, Espey & Merrill PC – CPAs.
“That was really special for all of us,” said Patee-Merrill. “We were really excited.”
Shortly after returning to his hometown, Merrill wanted to get into local politics headlong. He applied for a vacant seat on the council in 2018, which eventually went to council member Tye Parsons.
For Merrill, the decision to run for one of the two open seats in the upcoming election is not due to the pandemic.
“Had coronavirus never emerged, as my previous interest shows, I would still be interested in being on the city council,” Merrill said.
Merrill was encouraged by outgoing council members Jason McDowell and Matt Johnson to apply for any of the vacant positions, he said. He finally made his decision to throw his hat in the ring in the fall.
There is no ax to grind with the present council, said Merrill; He believes the group is doing a good job overall. He thinks he could help, especially with finances and budgeting.
Merrill sees a need in the council for someone with financial expertise. As a small business owner himself and an accountant for other small businesses in Maryville, he said he could meet those needs. He also sees the opportunity to do more.
Merrill said the current advice is small business friendly but could give these businesses a higher priority. Many companies are suffering from COVID-19, and Merrill said there is a way for local governments to do more to help them.
“What I’ve seen lately, and what I want to push forward, is that the city is budgeting funds for tourism and downtown revitalization,” Merrill said as he pointed to the board game cafe and the brick buildings surrounding it.
The CPA Council Candidate is not interested in the “sexy” side of local politics. He is more interested in what many consider mundane, thinking about budgets and making financial decisions with a trained eye.
“By this year, with the mask mandate and all that stuff, you could probably have asked 60% of citizens, ‘Who was on the city council? ‘and you could probably have named half of them, ”Merrill said.
Water quality issues and mask mandates have taken city council to a new level during the pandemic, seldom seen in the area before. Merrill said the city is taking the right steps to address the water problem, but that budget problems will soon surface over the cost of this venture. He believes that if he is elected to the city council he can help with this budgetary effort.
With regard to the mask mandate, if elected, Merrill would not vote to extend the mandate beyond the April 6 expiration date. Merrill supported the mandate on certain points but said he didn’t think it would be necessary until new council members were elected.
“I think we’re on the downhill side,” said Merrill. “I think enough people are being vaccinated that we’re really over it.”
Elections take place at the busiest time of year for an accountant: tax season. Merrill chuckled as he said he was used to being “overwhelmed”, but he’s not worried. He’s spent much of his life balancing commitments and deadlines, and if he’s elected to the city council, the extra commitment won’t be anything new.
The sky grew darker as Merrill gathered his things to leave the quiet cafe on Fourth and Main. He went back to the office to do some “homework,” he said.
“There are 24 hours a day that might as well use it,” Merrill said.