ALPENA - For six months the word "direction" has been used a lot when people question Alpena Municipal Council's decision to terminate the contract of former City Manager Thad Taylor in April. Residnets wanted details as to the manner and reasons behind Taylor's release and what the council's path forward was.
As a result of the action and the circumstances surrounding it, three of the city's five member board are up for recall on Nov.6.
Now the voters in the city have to choose a direction. To vote yes on the recall of Mayor Matt Waligora, Councilmen Mike Nunneley and David Karschnick, or reject the recall and hope the current animosity on the council can be calmed and the city can move forward without further fireworks.
Waligora said he believes the recall is unjustified because the accusations listed on the ballot are untrue and he never dreamed the action taken against Taylor would turn into the fire storm it has. Waligora, Nunneley and Karschnick are accused of violating Michigan's Open Meetings Act, firing Tayor without cause or explanation and for the cost the termination will have on the city's budget.
Waligora said the three never violated the Open Meetings Act and there was reasoning and serious thought behind the decision to fire Taylor. He said because discussion took place in executive session, it can't be revealed in fairness to Taylor. He said he believes he has done several positive things during his brief time as mayor and hopes voters take those things into consideration when filling out their ballot.
"Everything I have done and am doing are things I still believe are in the best interest of the city and for the future of the city," Waligora said. "I want people to look at the whole package. If you want to look back at the role I played at helping to bring SkyWest's air service to Alpena that's fine. If you look at the great relationships I have formed with the groups like the chamber, the DDA, the CVB and the county and our ability to work together, that is fine too. I think there is more to build on and more to be accomplished because of my strong relationships with them. I just think people need to look at everything and not just the Thad Taylor issue. "
Karschnick, who has made his displeasure known about Taylor's job performance long before the vote to fire him, said he has served on the council for more than 20 years and has done a lot for the city. He agreed with Waligora that the recall is not deserved.
"This is not justified. If Thad would have not requested this be held in closed session all of this would have been handled in the open and more would be explained, but he didn't," Karschnick said. "This is all a witch hunt and I think there has to be more to it then us just getting rid of Thad Taylor. We never violated the Open Meetings Act. I think the rest of the accusations are there to muddy up the waters, because there is really nothing there."
Nunneley said he thinks the recall is without merit and claims he has been clear on explaining what the city needs to do to avoid fiscal problems down the road. He said continuing forward with the status quo will not work because as the flow of money taken in by the city shrinks and the expenditure and financial obligations climb; it will be challenging for the city to overcome. He said he has clearly stated that in order for the city to continue to offer the services people deserve and ensure a healthy fund balance, changes in the way it operates need to be made now.
"People know me and they know I have never had a problem telling them what I think, we have explained the direction. I don't mind chatting with people and answering questions, but really I think it is time to move on," Nunneley said. "I'm excited about where we are going, but we need to find a way to find new revenues and to cut expenses, because we are in a fiscal crisis and if something isn't done three years from now we may see Alpena look nothing like it does today. Actually I think I have brought a level of accountability in being fiscally responsible to the council."
Cindy Johnson, who is among the leaders of the recall effort, said she firmly believes the accusation made against the three men are accurate and action needed to be taken. She said no matter how events unfold on Nov. 6, maybe the citizens of Alpena will pay closer attention to the action of the council and the issues involving the city.
"We needed to do this because there were a lot of people in the community asking questions and not getting answers and still haven't been answered," Johnson said. "This needed to be done. We needed to give people a voice in their government. I think the people will become more involved in local government after this. These people represent us and we can't let them think they have the power to do whatever they want. I think people being more involved and aware is a good thing, no matter how this turns out."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.