Longtime Routt County Attorney John Merrill retires this week
July 27, 2015
Steamboat Springs — John Merrill, Routt County's attorney for 24 years, gave his closing arguments before friends and colleagues at the courthouse Monday afternoon. But not before they praised his high standards and unwavering commitment to keeping the county commissioners out of trouble whenever they let him.
Merrill's last day on the job is Friday, and over his near quarter-of-a-century in the courthouse, he guided generations of county commissioners. He was always soft spoken and unemotional in public hearings. And he was always clad in blue jeans and hiking boots, as if any day he might decide to hike off into the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.
Assistant County Attorney Erick Knaus, who will succeed his boss next week, stood up to pass along an indirect compliment from Routt County Judge Jim Garrecht.
"I was talking to Judge Garrecht once and he said, ‘It's amazing to me how litigious this community is and how John's kept Routt County out of trouble all these years,'” Knaus said.
The side of the county attorney the public didn't see was the John Merrill who liked to get up from his desk and go on walkabouts, popping in on employees in other departments just to chat, and sometimes, even distract them from their work.
That fits right in with longtime county legal assistant Sue Zulevich's response to a question about Merrill's sense of humor.
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"He likes the comic strip Dilbert," Zulevich said.
Anyone who follows Scott Adams' Dilbert comics knows it's all about wry workplace humor.
County Commissioner Doug Monger said it was Merrill's willingness to say something that was unpopular that made him so valuable all of these years.
"His ability to tell you what you maybe didn't want to hear was probably his best quality," Monger said. "We probably followed his advice most of the time. Most of all, he was a mentor and a friend."
The Zulevich family saw lots of Merrill. Sue, who worked in the county legal department when Merrill first showed up in 1991, saw him every working day and her husband, Jim, was one of his best backpacking buddies along with Clear Creek County Attorney Bob Loeffler and County Finance Director Dan Strnad.
Merrill's wife, Nan, recalled that the fellas eschewed trails, preferring instead a bushwhack from Hog Park to Slavonia in the Zirkel Wilderness.
Nan Merrill said she knows that throughout his tenure, her husband was consistently impressed by the desire of the county commissioners to do the right thing.
Merrill said his success here was due to the quality of people he worked with at the courthouse.
"You have got to have good commissioners," and county employees, he said. "Working with people who want to do their jobs right and want to be competent — working with people like that is essential."
Merrill said that his wife, an avid barrel racer, grew up in the milder climate of Prescott, Arizona, and coming to Steamboat Springs with two school-age children was an adventure.
"I am very happy to say this adventure has turned out great," he concluded.