ALPENA - Thursday was a difficult day for those in Alpena County and for the people of Ossineke and Sanborn townships. On Wednesday Alpena County Commissioner Rich Fortier, who represented District No. 8, succumbed to his battle with lung cancer.
On Thursday his fellow commissioners shared their thoughts and memories of Fortier, who stayed dedicated to his role with the county until the end of his life. Chairman Cam Habermehl said Fortier had a special love for his community and wanted to do anything he could to make it a better place and to serve the people he represented the best he could.
"Rich has been one of the most dedicated commissioners that we have had and wanted to be involved in just about everything," Habermehl said. "He was an easy guy to talk to, and would talk to the people as much as he could, and he always knew what the people wanted. I know he wanted to do more than what he was capable of with his health, but he always fought to keep going and do what he could. In my opinion, he has been one of the best commissioners we have ever had."
Commissioner Tom Mullaney said other people may have decided to step down as commissioner after learning about the seriousness of their illness. He said Fortier never gave it serious thought and continued to do his job the only way he knew how.
"Rich really needs to be commended because he could have sat home in his recliner and took it easy, but he chose to put everything he had into the county," Mullaney said. "You talk about being a public servant that's what Rich was. He served right to the very end and for that he needs to be commended."
Commissioner Mark Hall said he noticed Fortier's drive to make a difference in the county during his first meeting. He said Fortier wanted to learn as much as possible and had ambitions to move up in the ranks and serve on boards he could lead.
"He had a true desire to learn the job and to participate on as many committees as he possibly could," Hall said. "He had aspirations of being a chairman of a personnel committee or a finance committee and even the full board. He always made sure he was serving the people and that their wishes were brought to the commissioner level. He will be missed and he is leaving huge shoes to fill. Our prayers are with his family."
Commissioner Lyle VanWormer said he served on several committees with Fortier and admired him for his knowledge and work ethic. He said Fortier's ability to look at issues from both sides and vote in the best interest of the people, made him a valuable asset to the county."
"It was truly enjoyable to work with a person who has a true passion for their job, and Rich did," VanWormer said. "He felt like he didn't only represent his district, but all of the people in the county. He spoke up when he needed to if he disagreed with something and always brought up points that maybe the rest of us hadn't considered. His passion for his job was unmatched and he will me missed."
As difficult as it will be. the board will need to find a replacement for Fortier and has a relatively short period of time to do so. According to County Clerk Bonnie Friedrichs the board has only a month to fill the District No. 8 seat. She said there will have to be an election, but she isn't sure if it will be held in August or if the county can wait until November's general election.
"Past practice, and this is still past practice is they shall fill the vacancy in 30 days and then we will have a special election to fill the vacancy," Fiedrichs said. "We know the election won't be in May because the filing deadline has already passed. Will it be in August or can we have it in November when the city has its? I don't know yet. That is what I'm waiting for confirmation from the Bureau of Elections about. I think by past practices we will have to have a special election in August."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com