ALPENA -On April 23, The Alpena News and True North Radio filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the City of Alpena requesting all electronic communications from Alpena Municipal Council members Mike Nunneley, David Karschnick and Mayor Matt Waligora. Newspaper officials did so in an attempt to learn if there was any violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act in regards to the termination of former City Manager Thad Taylor.
The request also asked for emails from Nunneley and Waligora's places of employment. The FOIA information received show no conclusive evidence the three conspired to terminate Taylor outside of an open meeting.
Not all of the FOIA requests were met, as Karschnick responded to the FOIA with a letter dated May 5 declining to turn over the personal information, which led The News and True North Radio to appeal that position to municipal council. After hearing the appeal Karschnick claimed his computer and cell phone are property of State Electronics, which supplied three emails to and from Alpena Fire Chief Bill Forbush pertaining to portable radios. PNC Bank, Nunneley's employer, declined to comply, as all information stored on its computers are property of the bank, but Waligora's workplace, Panel Processing, agreed to forward the request.
Based upon the little information received, it is impossible to conclude any Open Meetings Act violation by the three men who are facing recall in November over the matter.
News Managing Editor Steve Murch said because of the firestorm generated by the firing, he thought a thorough investigation into the matter was proper, even if the findings proved to be little or incomplete.
"We, and True North Radio, believed it was our responsibility to perform due diligence and ensure that no inappropriate or illegal meetings or communication had taken place. There are rules in place to protect both residents and elected officials and guarantee that all decisions are made in a proper manner," Murch said. "As much of a controversy as the dismissal was, it was our duty as a newspaper to make sure nothing illegal had occurred."
Although there were no apparent discussions pertaining to Taylor, there was a text sent on Jan. 26 from Karschnick to Nunneley that simply said "3 p.m. Cabin Creek," but no other correspondence indicates who was attending or if a meeting occurred.
Former County Coordinator Jim Peltier was mentioned once and his phone number appeared once in the text. On April 9, Nunneley sent a text to Karschnick with a phone number that proved to be Peltier's and a response three days later from Karschnick asking Nunneley if he had spoken to Peltier. On April 15, Karschnick also texted Nunneley asking if he had talked to Waligora and indicated Karschnick had indeed spoken to city attorney Bill Pfeifer.
There was only a pair of texts obtained from Waligor's cell phone. One from Nunneley asking if "you have a moment" and Waligora's response saying he would call around noon if it was OK.
The information was processed by Alpena Clerk/ Treasurer Karen Herbert and screened by Pfeifer and information outside of the FOIA, deemed personal in nature or private city business was not included in the material released. After all the texts received by The News and True North Radio were reviewed only two were determined to possibly have pertained to the city manager incident.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.