ALPENA - After two executive sessions, which lasted more than an hour each, the Alpena County Board of Commissioners voted to terminate Equalization Director Harry Guthrie and his assistant Travis Montie on Tuesday. Guthrie has been on administrative leave, with pay, since the first week of July, and Montie has not been to work in the office since shortly after because he chose to use leave time he had amassed.
The vote to fire Guthrie and Montie was made after the commissioners re-entered the open meeting after a pair of lengthy closed sessions with both in attendance. The vote to terminate Guthrie was 5-3 with Commissioners Jeff Kowalski, Ken Hubbard and Rich Fortier voting against the firing, while the decision to terminate Montie wasn't as close, at 7-1 with Kowalski entering the only "nay" vote.
Commissioner Cam Habermehl said Guthrie and Montie requested the issue to be addressed in closed session, so details about why they were terminated can't be discussed. He said the county will move forward in filling the positions according to policy.
"The next step is going to advertise for a new level-three director and fill the other vacant spot," Habermehl said. "The personnel committee will go through the interview process and follow the procedure we have in place. The employees requested a closed session, so by law we can't discuss the matter outside of it."
Commissioner Lyle VanWormer wouldn't share details that led to the terminations, but said he wasn't aware of any future financial obligations the county may have to the former employees. County Clerk Bonnie Friedrich confirmed VanWormer's suspicion and said the county has no financial commitments it needs to meet with Guthrie and Montie.
"We don't have any severance or employment service packages in place," Friedrich said. "So there won't be any other payments due to them."
Kowalski said the termination was the result of a violation of the county's Internet and email policy. He said the behavior was inappropriate, but he believed another option other than termination could have been found.
"There was an issue with their Internet use and some emails that were exchanged, but I feel something else could have been done. I believe letting our equalization director go, especially with our treasurer retiring, could hurt the county," Kowalski said. "I feel a different route could have been taken, and we could have used this as a chance to update and strengthen our Internet policy and try to make the best out of a bad situation."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.