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2 in-house candidates seek top city post

Alpena names six finalists for city manager as Sundin nears retirement

ALPENA — The Alpena Municipal Council plans to interview a pair of internal candidates vying to replace retiring City Manager Greg Sundin, according to a list of finalists’ names released Wednesday by the city.

The list also includes the former West Branch city manager who has sued her former employer over discrimination.

In total, a half-dozen applicants — whittled down from a field of 39 — will be publicly interviewed for the post on Oct. 5, the city said. Sundin plans to retire at year’s end.

Finalists include:

∫ Alpena Clerk/Treasurer Anna Soik

∫ Alpena Planning and Development Director Adam Poll

∫ Harbor Springs Downtown Development Authority Director Rachel Smolinski

∫ Gladwin City Manager Chris Shannon

∫ Karen Dempsey-Horan, assistant to the president of Woodland Township, Texas

∫ former West Branch City Manager Heather Grace, who the Ogema County Herald reports is currently suing that city, seeking $25,000 over claims she was discriminated against and subjected to “gender based” commentary.

The Herald reported in April that Grace filed a written complaint to the City of West Branch about inappropriate behavior in March 2018, claiming she was harassed for being a whistleblower when she encouraged the city’s boards and commissions to act more responsibly with taxpayers’ money. Grace said she was forced to take maternity leave earlier than expected and the harassment caused her health to decline and threatened the health or life of her unborn baby, the Herald reported.

Her resignation from that city was accepted by its council in January and was effective in February, but the litigation is still moving through the 34th Circuit Court.

Grace, who was West Branch city manager for four-and-a-half years, wouldn’t comment on the litigation when reached by The News on Wednesday.

She said, however, that her relationship with the community, staff, and most of the city council in West Branch was solid, but there were a few who made life difficult for her. She said she tried to take steps to solve some unethical practices she witnessed, but it was to no avail.

“What happened was unethical and illegal,” she said. “I offered a lot of recommendations, remedies and solutions, but, in the end, they chose not to do anything. It’s unfortunate, but it will in no way impact my ability to do my job if hired to do so in Alpena. Alpena is a beautiful community, and we are looking to put down roots. And Alpena, with its schools, recreation, and entertainment, is perfect for us to do that.”

Alpena Mayor Matt Waligora wouldn’t confirm or deny whether his council knew of the controversy surrounding Grace before council members decided to make her a finalist, because the resumes were reviewed in closed session on Monday.

A vote on the lists of finalists was taken in open session on Monday, but the names were not released until Wednesday.

Waligora said Grace will have an opportunity to address the board about the litigation during public interviews.

Soik was hired at the end of 2017 and Poll in 2013, when he replaced Sundin after Sundin was promoted to city manager.

Poll said his education, experience at City Hall, and tutelage under Sundin have prepared him for taking on more responsibility.

“I have a degree in public administration, and it has been a goal of mine to be a city manager, at some point,” he said. “It has been something I have always been working toward, professionally. This is the logical scenario next step for me. I don’t have any desire to leave Alpena, so this would be the best thing for me and my family.”

Soik has degrees in accounting and business administration. She said she loves her job as clerk and treasurer, but is ready to make the next step in her career. She said that, if she didn’t try to get the job now, it could be a long wait until she gets anther chance.

“These types of opportunities don’t come up every day, and it is an amazing opportunity I couldn’t turn down,” she said. “To be honest, I’m blown away that council has selected me to be a finalist, and to have its support really means a lot.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.