ALPENA - Claiming the city needs to move in a different direction and not sharing the same vision, the Alpena Municipal Council voted to terminate City Manager Thad Taylor Monday night, effective immediately.
In Taylor's contract, there was a no cause stipulation, which allowed either party to part ways with or without reason. In this case the city chose to do so with what those who voted for his dismissal say are different views on the direction of the city. Mayor Matt Waligora, who cast the deciding vote, said he understands people in the community want an explanation for Taylor's firing, but said because it is a personnel, issue some details will not be made public.
"I understand people are frustrated and want more of a reason, but it is a personnel decision, and I'm not going to get into much more of it," Waligora said.
Councilman Dave Karschnick provided a little more clarity in why he voted to oust Taylor. He said the two sides didn't have the same vision in terms of where the council thinks the city needs to be in the future. He said Interim Manager Karen Hebert has experience to keep things moving forward for the time being, and once a permanent replacement is found, things will stabilize.
"I think we were headed in two different directions and his contract had a without clause, so I decided to go in a new direction," Karschnick said. "I think the transition will go smoother than what people anticipate. We have full faith in Karen, and she as acted as Thad's replacement while he was on vacations and such. I think we will be able to move forward without much of a problem and I'm not concerned at all."
Mayor Pro Tem Sam Eiler was not as optimistic as Karschnick. He said a large mistake has been made and a big injustice was done by firing Taylor when in essence he had done nothing wrong.
"Think this was a horrible mistake to just go immediately to the nuclear option, and it is a very poor way to treat a professional manager who is in the prime of his career and who did nothing to deserve this treatment. It doesn't speak well of a council to do that to a valued employee," Eiler said. "I believe we have not even begun to learn how big of a mistake this was and how big these shoes are going to be to try to fill."
Councilman Mike Nunneley, who made the motion to terminate Taylor, said he has stood strong in the direction he believes the city should be headed and didn't think Taylor was going to get it to where it needed to be. He said the move was not made out of malice, but rather to do what is best for the city.
"I want to thank Thad Taylor for his years of dedicated service to the Alpena area and the City of Alpena," Nunneley said. "However. At this time I have a philosophical difference of opinion of what I believe the direction the city needs to go, and how the city manager's position functions toward that direction. As a result, we made a very difficult decision that I truly believe is done in the best interest of the City of Alpena. I wish Thad great success in whatever endeavors he pursues."
Eiler said during Taylor's last review, he scored an 80 percent job approval rating on marks distributed by the council. He said there is only one thing different with the board since the last evaluation, and in the end it proved to be the one who cost Taylor his job.
"On a scale from one to five in Thad's evaluations in different categories, the council gave him a 3.7, which is well above average," Eiler said. "Four of the five council members gave him satisfactory or better. The only thing that has changed is the mayor."
In an attempt to ease tension among the employees at city hall and the council, Waligora held a staff meeting to offer the workers, many of whom supported Taylor, a chance to ask questions and vent frustrations. He said he hopes the air is cleared and hopes everyone can move forward with the task of serving the people of Alpena.
"I feel from my side the meeting was productive, and I hope they feel the same way," Waligora said. "I gave them the opportunity to speak their mind, and several of them did so. I walked out of city hall with a list of concerns which I will take to the council and make sure they have the tools they need to move forward."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.