ALPENA - Former Alpena Municipal Council member Mike Polluch and Alpena Planning Commission member Susan Nielsen beat out 13 other candidates to be appointed to fill the two vacant seats that were vacated by the recall of Mike Nunneley and Dave Karschnick.
The council agreed on the two after it conducted 15 minute interviews with the eight finalists Thursday night during a special meeting. Polluch and Nielsen will be sworn in and take their seats on Monday and will remain on the council until a special election in February, when both will run to win the seats for a full term.
Nielsen scored the most points with 23 and was appointed without any debate, but Polluch tied with Richard Matteson for second with 17 points and discussion to which was the best fit for the council ensued. Finally, after about 10 minutes the three council members voted to appoint Polluch because of his previous experience. Mayor Matt Waligora said he would have been comfortable with most of the finalists, but is pleased with those chosen.
"This was the most difficult decision I have had to make yet and it was because there were so many fantastic candidates. That is no lie," Waligora said. "The three of us chose them and I think we did our best."
Polluch said he was forced to step down from the council because of the conflict it caused with his employment at the time. He said now that he is retired he wants to resume serving the community.
"This is a big relief, because the other seven finalists were very qualified and some maybe even more qualified than me," Polluch said. "It is going to be good to be back in and now I can donate more time. I'm going to run in February. I have gotten all of my paperwork back and I'm going to be on the ballot."
Of the finalists, eight indicated to the council they intend to run in February's special election whether they are appointed or not. Councilman Shawn Sexton said the only positive to come from the recall is that more people and new faces want to play a role in city government. He said all of them can't be on the council, but there are other ways they can serve.
"Ultimately I think we went with the two most experienced candidates and in a close group of people, in which we were excited about them all, it seemed like the most prudent thing to do," Sexton said. "We have a lot of vacant seats on different boards and we have this new enthusiastic group that I think can infuse a new source of energy into the city."
Nielsen said she enjoyed the process and the manner in which the council conducted the process. She said there were many people in the pool of candidates who would have been good choices, but she is glad the council decided on her.
"I'm thrilled and excited. I knew several people who applied for the seats and have the ultimate respect for them," Nielsen said. "It was thrilling to have gone through the process with them and overall it was enjoyable. I never felt pressured by the board and it was actually pretty painless. I really appreciate the way the council handled this."
Councilman Sam Eiler, who announced he was not going to seek re-election next year, said the energy and enthusiasm the candidates had was nice to see. He said not only were they pulling for themselves to do well, but each other as well.
"Any one of these eight we would have been proud to have on city council," Eiler said. "They sat out there and applauded for their competition after each presentation, so they were in it for the right reasons and therefore might not feel as much pain as we feel for not choosing someone."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.