ALPENA - Former Alpena Mayor Carol Shafto and recently terminated City Manager Thad Taylor worked together for several years, and she believes she is a pretty good judge of his character. According to Shafto, Alpena Municipal Council's decision to terminate Taylor has cost the city a valuable asset, who not only worked hard but represented the city admirably.
Shafto said there has been a push by a couple council members for several years to remove Taylor from his position, but until recently the majority of the board was pleased with how Taylor took care of business and handled the staff. She said it was not a shock to her Taylor was fired, but was taken aback by how soon the event took place after her leaving office and new Mayor Matt Waligora took office.
"I expected this, but not this soon," Shafto said. "There has been rumbling for a few years about only needing one vote, and I was hoping the new mayor would take the time to make a strong and independent decision, so he would make a decision on what he knows of the manager firsthand. I'm not sure three months was enough time to do so."
The city used a "no cause" clause in Taylor's contract, which allowed the city to fire him with or without reason, while affording Taylor to walk away at any time without notice. The three members of the council who voted to remove him - Dave Karschnick, Mike Nunneley and Waligora - said Taylor didn't share the same vision or direction as the council, and a new path needed to be taken for the betterment of Alpena. Shafto said Taylor played an important role in several consolidation efforts with other governing bodies, and was reliable and built of solid morals.
"Thad is first and foremost absolutely and impeccably trustworthy, and he honestly is unparalleled. His honesty is one of his strongest traits," Shafto said. "You could always count on Thad. If he said he would be somewhere, he was there. If he said he was going to do something, he would do it. He was pivotal in intergovernmental dealings and union negotiations, and if not for him working on these things, we wouldn't have gotten the revenue sharing we did from the state last year. Thad is a rock and as solid as they come."
Shafto said Taylor also did a good job on helping the city plan its annual budget. Along with Clerk/Treasurer Karen Hebert, the council always had a budget and adjustments ready to go in a timely manner. She said the fact the city's fund balance has been diminishing is not due to Taylor, but the council itself.
"Thad always brought in a balanced budget and recommended to us what needed to be done," she said. "It only became unbalanced when we fiddled with it. He always laid out what was needed, but we always made the changes."
Taylor was offered a chance to resign during the closed session meeting, but he reiterated that he had done nothing wrong and forced the council's hand to move ahead with a vote to terminate him. Shafto said because of Taylor's knowledge and experience, he will not have a hard time finding another job.
"It is not in his nature to walk away, and he would have felt like that is what he would be doing if he resigned. He would never want people to think that," Shafto said. "I'm not worried about Thad. He will land on his feet and be fine. It is the city I'm worried about and what they have left."
Shafto said in her opinion Taylor's dismissal was only a preview of things to come. She said other staff members could be targeted next.
"I don't think this is the last axe to fall. It is only the first," Shafto said. "I'm sure there are staff workers thinking right now that if the council can get rid of Thad without cause, then it can get rid of me too. They know as well as I do there is not one thing the council could have put its finger on to justify just letting him go. It's unfortunate."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.