by Peter Jakey-Managing Editor
More than 30 people attended a town hall meeting at the Onaway Veterans of Foreign Wars hall last Saturday, and it appears a recall of three city commissioners is in the offing. The meeting was hosted by the group calling itself Concerned Citizens for a Safer Community.
Several attendees spoke during the public meeting about the need to keep the Onaway Police Department’s lone officer, chief Jim Gibson, in place. Currently, the Onaway City Commission is discussing a plan to “roll” Gibson into the Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Department, instead of eliminating his position to balance the budget.
The meeting lasted more than an hour with several people speaking against the city’s current plan to have the sheriff’s department absorb Gibson’s position.
Judy Shaloy, who moderated the discussion, said “we’ve got to take Onaway back…The way they have run the meetings, so far, is not right. They are rushing through to get rid of the police department, and we want to know why there is such a big rush.”
Shaloy also is unhappy the public has not been allowed to speak during the board meetings or ask questions, other than the three-minute public comment period at the start of a regular meeting.
Other attendees criticized the handling of the surveys, the seeking grants and the refusal to have someone else assess the budget.
“Unless we stand together and fight this, Onaway is off the map, if we do not have a police department,” said Marma Beatty.
Following the meeting, Shaloy said “we are going to go forward with the recall. We are going to make sure the wording is right, and I think we are going to go on with the recall and go from there.”
Petition language was submitted to the county clerk’s office Wednesday. Names on the petitions included mayor Gary Wregglesworth and Commissioners Jessie Horrocks and Chuck Abshagen.
The group had been circulating petitions seeking support for a referendum to raise taxes four mills to cover the operation of the police department.
Shaloy said the group is not going to wait for a final decision. “No matter what they decide, we are going to go forward with it,” said Shaloy. “Whether they get rid of the police department or not, we are still going to go forward with it.”
Regarding the petitions and possible referendum, “I think we have dropped that. We are not going to go for the four mills. We are going ahead with the recall, and see what happens at the meeting (Wednesday, separate story).”
Part of the meeting included discussion about removing three commissioners, and they have three candidates interested in running. No names were mentioned.
“We have the wording on the recall, and we have a lawyer,” said Shaloy.
“First of all, we have to worry about getting rid of the commission. Once we get rid of the commission, things will fall into place,” said Beatty. “We get the recall going, and get a new commission, commissioners in here that will be working for Onaway. When we get the new commissioners, then we get rid of the city manager.”
City manager Joe Hefele is one of four finalists for Alpena city manager.
Beatty said, “And once we get rid of them, and we get people we can talk to and reason with and are worried about our community and our town, everything else will fall into place.”
Glen Lunceford spoke about the need to have voters approve a measure to include wording of the city charter to include a mandate for a local police department.
“I mean this respectfully, this is not about Gibby (chief Gibson), who I think the world of, this is about, having a police department permanently,” Lunceford spoke. “The people should be able to choose that. The charter said, they do not have to have it.”
Any petition language would have to be approved by the county election board.