ALPENA - After an invitation from the League of Women Voters, members of Alpena Municipal Council participated in an open forum that afforded public officials an opportunity to clear the air on a series of issues surrounding the termination of former City Manager Thad Taylor. Each person on the panel - Councilmen Mike Nunneley, Sam Eiler, Shawn Sexton and Mayor Matt Waligora - also had an opportunity to outline their vision on the direction the city needs to follow moving forward.
Questions were crafted by the audience and screened by the League, and each board member had 90 seconds to respond with two minutes allotted for each member to address attendees beforehand.
Sexton began by thanking those who care enough about the community and for the support people in the community have extended toward him during the Taylor issue, which he opposed.
News Photo by Steve Schulwitz
Mayor Matt Waligora, second from left, answers a question during the League of Women Voters forum while, left to right, Councilmen Sam Eiler, Mike Nunneley and Shawn Sexton listen at Alpena Community College’s Granum Theater.
"I know in my heart that the public's involvement in this has made a tremendous difference this past month," Sexton said. "It has made a difference in the decisions that were and were not made. Residents making a difference to me is what makes local government. That is how it is supposed to work. The good 'ol boy network has no place in Alpena, and I'm proud I'm not part of that. I also think the council owes the community an apology. If the majority of council had been acting honestly and with transparency, we wouldn't be here tonight."
Nunneley said he always ha been honest in what he has done and said, adding that he knows he has critics in the community and there is little he can do to change their perception of him. Nunneley said that is OK, and he has an obligation to the voters of Alpena to make difficult decisions, which is what he did in Taylor's dismissal.
"If you are related to the former city manager, there is probably not a lot I can say to make you change your mind. If you're friends with him and his family, there is not much going to change your mind about what I have to say," Nunneley said. "I will tell you what I said to Mr. Taylor, but I will not get into any personal discussions about Mr. Taylor. I will look you in the eye and tell you he is a man of impeccable character, he has a skill set for the right circumstance for the right community would be a perfect fit. I hope you get the answers you are looking for tonight."
Waligora, who was hesitant to participate in the forum until agreeing to take part two weeks ago, said he wanted to take the time to explain some actions that were taken and thwart rumors.
"I hope that I can address your concerns this evening. I also hope we can leave here being a stronger and more understanding city council," Waligora said. "We have a lot to do, and that is one of the main things I hope we take with us from here tonight. In the event questions arise that I will not give the answer or direct answer to, I will at least try to explain to you why I won't answer."
Eiler, who questioned Taylor's firing from the start, said he only wanted to make a brief opening comment because he had a lot of opinions for the issues which were sure to follow.
"In regards to the firing of Mr. Taylor, there is legal and there is ethical. I believe because of the way the contract was stated there is no question the firing was legal, whether it was ethical, I don't believe so. I think the majority crossed the line and the community is poorer for it," he said.
Questions arose about whether Waligora, Nunneley and Councilman Dave Karschnick, who declined to participate, met in secret to plan the course that led to the unpopular dismissal. Waligora and Nunneley said they didn't violate the Open Meetings Act. However, Sexton and Eiler said something smelled rotten because of Waligora's statement to City Clerk Karen Hebert after Taylor was let go and she was handed his position for a period of two weeks, when Waligora said former County Coordinator Jim Peltier would take the helm.
Each council member explained his stance on the issues, and Waligora did on several occasions refuse to answer or explain questions concerning Taylor and an arranged meeting with the former manager after the fact.
The forum closed with Sexton reminding the crowd that it is now up to them to determine if the questions were answered honestly and take the next step, whatever it may be.
"The purpose of this was to answer questions the public had, so I ask you, were they answered? Do you have a better idea of what the vision for Alpena is? Do you have a better idea why Thad Taylor was fired and how the decision was made in the first place? Do you feel the Open Meetings Act was violated or it was not," Sexton asked. "Are you satisfied with 'I can't talk about that' is a fair and honest answer?
"More importantly, how do you feel about the new leadership this community has taken on? Only you can decide if these important questions were answered."
The forum will be televised on public television beginning on Friday at 8 p.m. and will be aired every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at the same time for the next two weeks. Public television is located on channel 97 locally.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.