Being the second-youngest of 10 siblings not only gave Philip Merriman a lot of people to look up to, but it also taught him the importance of developing a strong work ethic.
Merriman, a Columbia native, said he, his six sisters and three brothers didn’t grow up with silver spoons in their mouths. Rather, they grew up in an underserved neighborhood. He feels fortunate to have achieved what he has and attributes much of that to his family upbringing.
“It’s definitely a benefit of having siblings in general, is that you can learn from other people’s mistakes, you can learn from other people’s failures and their successes,” Merriman said, adding that having so many brothers and sisters is like having his eyes in multiple places.
Merriman said he has a deep love for Columbia and wants to do everything he can to make it the greatest it can be. That’s why he’s running for the Sixth Ward seat on the Columbia City Council in the April 6 election. He and Randy Minchew are challenging incumbent Betsy Peters.
Merriman owns Seraphim Systems, a Columbia-based information technology and consulting company. He said he’s always had an interest in the field and that the skills required to do well in it are intuitive for him.
“I run my own small business, and that’s my passion project,” Merriman said. “That’s the thing that I’m most passionate about.”
Owning a small business and seeing the impact COVID-19 has had on Columbia businesses was one of the driving forces in his decision to run for public office. Merriman described driving down Grindstone Parkway and seeing broken windows and empty businesses. Every one of those empty buildings, he said, represents someone who put their dreams on the line.
“They can’t afford to keep their home,” Merriman said. “They can’t afford to keep their doors open. Those are shattered dreams and broken families, every one of them.”
Merriman hasn’t shied away from speaking his mind during the campaign, even when the messages he delivers aren’t what his audience wants to hear. At a candidate forum on climate and environmental issues, for example, he remained firm in his stances and beliefs.
Is it feasible for Columbia to have a portfolio of 100% renewable energy by 2030, 2040 or 2050? No, he said. “This is simply not going to happen.”
Does he support the current public transit system? No. He wants to shift to ride-share apps and programs and scrap the existing bus system. “It’s one less element for our local government to mess up.”
What does he think of the city’s handling of COVID-19? He thinks there should be less government regulation. “There’s no reason to strip people of their rights.”
What does he make of the pay-as-you-throw system for recycling and trash collection? He wants to end it.
“I very rarely go to lengths not to say what I mean,” Merriman said. “I can be a little blunt sometimes, and I definitely don’t self-censor much.”
Merriman’s wife, Kat Merriman, owns KatFour Photo. Both said they have seen the struggles small business owners have endured during the pandemic and were unhappy with the direction things were going in Columbia. Merriman is running for City Council to do something about it.
The Merrimans, and their friends who own small businesses, know the challenges involved in providing jobs. They’ve heard lots of firsthand accounts of the problems entrepreneurs are facing. Kat Merriman said her husband is dedicated to making Columbia better.
“It’s a place he spent a good portion of his life, and he really cares about the city,” she said. “He really wants to do everything to see the city thrive.”
Outside his career and campaign, Merriman has a love for the classics. One of his favorite films is “Cleopatra,” which was released in 1963. He appreciates the production value and the all-star cast that featured Elizabeth Taylor in the title role, Richard Burton as Mark Antony and Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar.
“It’s from an era that I kind of prefer a film where they used not just more practical effects, but they hired lots of extras,” he said. “It’s all these things, and it wasn’t all done with CGI.”
Merriman has an extensive collection of headphones that he uses to enjoy music with while sitting in his favorite chair.
“I enjoy testing out new headsets and new things to kind of draw out new parts of that music,” Merriman said.
Kat Merriman said her husband enjoys iconic performers such as Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra. He’s also a fan of audio books.
One of his favorite authors is C.S. Lewis, a famous British writer who Merriman considers the most instructive figure in his life. Lewis’ works have shaped his world view, his philosophy and his religion.
“I love his literature,” Merriman said. “His nonfiction has some of the most useful information that I think a person can acquire.”
A favorite of his is ”The Abolition of Man,” a book about education and moral values, published in 1943. Lewis argues that education, both at home and in schools, should be conducted in the context of moral law and objective values. Merriman said the book’s message could not be more relevant than it is to today’s world.
“I would honestly recommend that anybody should pick that up and read it kind of at their leisure,” Merriman said.
Merriman paraphrased Lewis at a recent candidate forum hosted by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce. The candidates were asked to talk about trash collection issues.
“He says that tyranny exercised for the good of the people is the worst tyranny of all,” Merriman said of Lewis.
Merriman said the government does not need to be incentivizing people to waste less or do less. He said it becomes a moral question when the city tells people how much trash they should generate.
“That’s so far outside the scope of government that it’s offensive to be taking part in,” Merriman said.
Merriman feels that running for City Council is “morally right.”
“If you asked, a younger, more naive version of myself (whether) one day I might be trying to affect a political change in my hometown by running for office or trying to elicit these changes to help my community, that probably would have been as far off or as alien to that young Phillip as can possibly be,” Merriman said.
Merriman hopes to do “a little bit of good” by serving on the council for a few years then turning the role over to someone who has an equal love for Columbia. Kat Merriman said he didn’t get into the race because of any political ambition. Rather, he just wants to ensure the public’s voices are heard.
Merriman said he wants Columbians to have the chance to pose questions and share opinions.
“He really believes that the City Council should really represent the constituents and really care about what they they believe and what they think the city should look like,” Kat Merriman said.
What Merriman likes most about America is that anyone who works hard and has the right mixture of ingredients can achieve anything. He wants to preserve that.
“Where you start in life doesn’t determine where you end in life,” Merriman said.
Merriman isn’t one to sit idly by when his community is in jeopardy.
“When he is passionate about something, he really dives all in and does work really hard for those things,” Kat Merriman said.