Cherney
Cherney

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After the City of Menominee received its charter to become a municipality in 1883, the first council meeting was conducted on Thursday, April 5, 1883, when F. A. Mitchell, secretary pro tem, called the roll at the 7 o’clock session, and the following answered: Mayor Andrew C. Stephenson and alderman J. C. Wagg, Augustus A. Spies, Jacob Leisen, J. Oehrling, Sam Peltier, L. Young, B. J. Phillips, F. O. Mitchell and J. A. Crozer.

Alderman Crozer didn’t waste time to ignite a controversy. He promptly moved to have the council go into executive session for the purpose of naming a city attorney. Alderman Spies nominated B. J. Brown for the post. Alderman Mitchell preferred A. L. Sawyer. Sawyer won 7-3, the mayor having a vote along with the nine aldermen. 

There was much more business conducted at the first meeting of the mayor and council. City officers were appointed and their compensation established. The mayor’s pay was set at $2 per year. Compensation for aldermen was $1 per year.

The city treasurer’s pay was set at $200 per year with the opportunity to earn more money. The council voted him one percent of all tax revenue he collected from property owners on the assessment roll.

As you may imagine, the historic meeting was not without other disputes besides the showdown for the city attorney’s position. After all, the first body of government was comprised of the early settlers who came here from different regions of the Eastern seaboard and from different regions of Canada. Their opinions varied and they weren’t afraid to express them.

City government has been reshaped several times since that memorable meeting of 135 years ago. Menominee shifted its method of operation to a city manager form of government in the 1990s.

Some people will always find fault with government, no matter the level of management or administration — town, village, municipal, county, state or federal. But we should never underestimate or under-appreciate what government has done for its citizens over the long haul, from the developing years to now, in bad times and good times.

In the 1930s and early 1940s, Menominee had two mayors who were movers and shakers. The office was part-time and the 14-member city council represented seven wards, two councilmen per ward. The mayor’s salary was paltry. Candidates seeking the office, however, weren’t looking at the salary schedule. They were politically motivated and keenly interested in moving the city forward.

Albert G. Cherney came from a well-known Menominee family. He ran a music store on 10th Avenue in about the same location as the present-day Nicolet National Bank. His brother, Charles, took over the store when Albert went to work for the Michigan State Liquor Control Commission, a political appointment at the time. The move was in 1941.

Cherney was mayor from 1932 to 1938 — the Great Depression years. At the time of his death (April 17, 1957), Cherney was the only mayor to have served six consecutive years. He is best remembered for his vigorous but futile battle for a city-owned electric plant.

Pushing hard to have the city own and operate its own utility system, Cherney’s hard-nosed approach ignited many heated verbal bouts on the council floor. The issue was so controversial, council meetings had to be moved to the Menominee Opera House on Ludington Avenue (5th Avenue) to accommodate the large crowds. He had his supporters for the makeover but he also had his critics.

Perhaps his most noteworthy achievement during his time as mayor came when he pressed to have the city purchase private property along the Green Bay waterfront to expand Menominee beach Park, which today is known as Great Lakes Memorial Marina Park. 

Cherney proved that bipartisanship worked back in the 1930s. Attorney Fabian J. Trudell represented the M&M Light & Traction Co., forerunner of Wisconsin Public Service, during the heated debates over municipal ownership of the utility. Trudell happened to be chairman of the city’s park board. Cherney turned to him for help in acquiring the property to expand the park.

A majority of aldermen were opposed to the land purchase to enlarge the park. Trudell’s term on the park board was up at the time of bitter feud over the utility issue. Cherney reappointed him to the park board and the two proceeded to convince a majority of council members that the city should acquire the private property and expand the park.

One of Cherney’s campaign promises was to establish a municipal band if he was elected. His background in music and his love for community-sponsored bands prompted his campaign pledge. He proposed a 0.3 percent millage levy to organize and equip a community band. The voters supported his idea. He was elected mayor by a lopsided 2,096 to 933 margin.

With the tax money in place to sponsor a band during the Great Depression, Cherney approached the Oscar Falk American Legion Post 146 to take over the project. It became known as the Menominee Municipal American Legion Band. The band thrilled spectators at local parades and conducted band concerts at West End Park, on the north end of town and at the downtown beach park.

Michael C. Olsen assumed the post of mayor in April 1938 and racked up an impressive record of achievements during his three-term tenure. He died in office in May 1943 at the age of 35. His death was due to a heart condition. 

During his administration a string of public improvements were completed and the financial condition of the city was stabilized. He was considered an economic conservative and was credited for reducing the city’s bonded indebtedness from $85,000 in 1938 to $28,000 in 1943.

Two of his biggest public works improvements were the paving of Sheridan Road (1st Street) and the construction of a sewage disposal plant. He also advanced the city-county airport project, which included the moving of the airport on M-35 into the city. He also was credited with improving many miles of streets, sewer improvements and installing new curbs and gutters, all projects that were neglected during the nagging 10-year Depression years of the 1930s.

Mayor Olsen was active in civic affairs. He played a major role in negotiations that brought Montgomery Ward Department Store to Menominee and the L.E. Jones Co., which today is one of the city’s largest employers. He was instrumental in bringing the Menominee Glove Co. here during the World War II period, and the company made gloves and mittens for the military. The company was located on the upper floor of the Montgomery Ward store.

Part-time mayors had considerable clout in municipal government in earlier times. The city later changed its charter to a full-time-mayor form of government and in the 1990s went to a city manager form of government.

Mayors Cherney and Olsen served during some difficult times. Both served in the Great Depression era. Olsen also was in office during World War II.