By Steve Dreyer
For retiring City Councilwoman Merrilee Boyack, the best things about serving her city for the past eight years were often little things.
“Having a resident call about a problem and it being fixed by the end of the day, that was great,” Boyack said a few days before her term ends on Tuesday night.
Closing the book on this chapter of her life, Boyack said she had no regrets, and only a couple of second thoughts, about the many issues she dealt with and votes cast on the council.
“A couple of little votes still bother me,” she said. Both involved approving plans for large houses, one in Green Valley and the other in the Old Poway area. In both cases, the finished homes were clearly too large for their surroundings, she said.
But Boyack said her advocating on behalf of several other issues brought her a great deal of satisfaction.
At the top of the list was her desire to have Poway better prepared to handle the effects of natural disasters such a wildfires. As a volunteer leader of the 2003 Cedar Fire recovery effort, Boyack saw first hand the need to have a disaster preparedness plan, to train city staff and to have necessary supplies on hand for future emergencies.
“We’re in much, much better shape now,” Boyack said. “We have become the poster child for preparedness.”
Boyack, who prior to her election had been active in a wide variety of youth-related causes, campaigned on the premise that City Hall needed to better reach out and communicate with residents. Toward that end, she successfully pushed for Town Hall meetings, the televising of council meetings, an improved city website and email distribution lists.
Trimming expenses at City Hall also was near the top of Boyack’s to-do list when she joined the council in 2004. She opposed the construction of a fine arts center and advocated for a smaller train depot. She pushed for the early dismantling of the city’s water conservation team and opposed plans for a three-story low-income housing project in Old Poway.
Throughout her two terms, City Hall was well managed by a series of three city managers, Boyack said.
Jim Bowersox, she said, was “brilliant and visionary” but also someone who “controlled his staff to accomplish his goals.”
Rod Gould, who served a four-year stint, “did some necessary restructuring and reductions,” Boyack recalled. “He struggled a bit with understanding the vision of Poway, how we (city leaders) respond to the residents.”
Current City Manager Penny Riley, who served as assistant city manager to both Bowersox and Gould, “is a visionary who gets it. She’s very centered in the way she approaches things and she operates from a very deep moral base.”
Boyack’s council job required 8-10 hours a week, including answering a never-ending stream of emails and occasional phone calls.
“It has been rewarding work, but not especially easy work,” she said. “You spend a lot of time explaining things to people.”
Boyack is an estate planning attorney, prolific author and professional motivational speaker. In addition to her council, business and family responsibilities, she has dealt with four years of health issues stemming from breast cancer and reconstructive surgeries.
“I had three rough years,” she said, “plus another 1 1/2 years of emotional healing.” She said she is now is full remission and is feeling great. Throughout it all, she missed only one council meeting, she proudly noted.
Boyack said her next project is writing articles for a new website,
- She will also continue supporting the Poway Neighborhood Emergency Corps and the Poway Community Leadership Institute, which she created several years ago.