ALPENA - In late April The Alpena News and True North Radio filed three Freedom of Information requests with the City of Alpena requesting all electronic communications between Councilmen Dave Karschnick and Mike Nunneley, and Mayor Matt Waligora from Jan. 1 through the third week in April.
Waligora served the information requested, and his employer did also. Nunneley cooperated with his personal email, but his employer being a private entity, refused to comply. Karschnick submitted a letter of refusal, and the information is still in his possession.
After Karschnick's refusal, the newspaper and True North sent a letter of appeal to the council, which after legal opinion from attorney Bill Pfeifer, decided the city has turned over everything it legally could and it could not force Karschnick to forward the information from his laptop or his cell phone because they are property of State Electronics.
News Photo by Steve Schulwitz
Former mechanic David Shoemaker gets a special certificate of appreciation for retiring after 14 years of service for the city. The award was presented to him by Mayor Matt Waligora.
The board voted to send a letter formally requesting Karschnick comply with the request, but Karschnick said he did nothing wrong, so he isn't going to grant the request.
"I'm not going to turn the stuff over because I didn't do anything wrong," Karschnick said. "They got the information from the other two and didn't find anything. If you have Matt's and Mike's, you would have had my responses to them, so why should I turn anything else over? There is nothing there."
The FOIA material received included no correspondence, sent or received, from Karschnick and now lies in the laptop and cell phone of State Electronics.
Councilman Shawn Sexton said he thinks Karschnick should comply and understands it is a mere technicality that Karschnick is using to keep the information private.
"Technically I understand the city's position that we can't force Councilman Karschnick to give up his information," Sexton said. "The bottom line is Dave has turned over nothing from the FOIA investigation. So has been the case for the last several months, technically what is legal and what is actually right seem to be two different things."
During the open session, Karschnick said the media had found nothing in the information it had received, but when asked, Waligora said he hadn't been privy to what the paper and radio had been given, so it is unknown if or how Karschnick became aware of what was obtained. Waligora said the city has done all it was required to and that all it can do is send a letter asking Karschnick to comply.
"The city has turned over everything that has been requested, but we can't force him to turn his stuff over," Waligora said. "The way I see it we don't own that stuff, and we have no authority to direct that business to release information which is on their devices and their records. As a government, we can't make that business turn over anything."
Pfeifer said he has reason to believe that Karschnick did conduct some city business on the State Electronics equipment and said the city used due diligence when dealing with the FOIA requests.
"I would say that it is a safe bet that there was some city-related stuff on them," Pfeifer said. "In today's world where people are involved in government and are employed, it is almost impossible not. We used our due diligence in meeting the FOIA request, but because the electronics are not the property of Mr. Karschnick, we can't force them to comply. We have sent a request to State Electronics, and if they agree, we will turn over the information requested."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.