by Peter Jakey-Managing Editor
Members of the Presque Isle Election Commission approved petition language May 9 to recall Onaway mayor Gary Wregglesworth, as well as commissioners Chuck Abshagen and Jessie Horrocks.
That gave the green light to the group Citizens for a Safer Community to collect signatures and put the question on the November ballot. They need to collect 58 valid signatures in 60 days. The effort could be delayed if an appeal is filed. As of Thursday morning, no appeals had been filed at the county clerk’s office. The deadline is May 20. Each official would need to pay $150 apiece to file an appeal.
Organizers of the recall, led by sponsor Judy Shaloy, have scheduled a town hall meeting Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5857 to provide information, have petitions available for signing and announce potential candidates for city commission.
On April 25, proposed petition language was submitted to the county clerk’s office and reviewed May 9 by the county election commission. The board, consisting of probate Judge Donald McLennan, clerk Ann Marie Main and treasurer Bridget LaLonde, heard arguments on the clarity and factual nature of the petition language.
All three petitions set forth the same allegations.
“That each individual has failed to make decisions in which the voters have entrusted regarding the safety and security of our community by refusing to explore or take advantage of offers or options from citizens or other outside governmental agencies to retain the Onaway Police Department,” said McLennan, reading the proposed recall language. “And by doing so, is putting the community’s safety and security at risk.”
The board was charged with determining whether each reason stated in the petitions is based upon conduct occurring during the officials’ current term of office and whether each reason, “is factual of sufficient clarity to enable the officer whose recall is sought and the electors to identify the course of conduct that is the basis for the recall.”
Horrocks attended the 16-minute meeting and told the board that the city has been exploring other avenues to retain the police department. “Putting the community’s safety and security at risk? I believe that is an opinion, instead of a fact. Because, if that were a fact, every township and city in our county is at risk.”
Horrocks said Posen, Grand Lake, Millersburg, Ocqueoc do not have police departments, “aren’t they at risk? I am just stating, that this is an opinion.”
She also believes the citizens of Onaway have put their trust in her decisions by electing her to 16 years on the city commission.
Onaway city manager Joe Hefele spoke again on behalf of mayor Wregglesworth and commissioners Horrocks and Abshagen.
“At a hearing 15 days ago, it was said that this election commission did not have to make a determination that the allegation was based on truth to move it forward, only that the allegation was factually stated.
“Further, it was said that a determination as to the allegation was truthful was best left to the electorate, not this election commission. I do not believe this is the intent of the legislation. In fact, I believe it is quite the opposite.
Hefele said the definition of “factual,” according to the Oxford English dictionary as, “based on, or concerned with things that are known to be true.”
Hefele said a petitioner could present language that “easily could be proven false by the meeting minutes, but still move forward as factual or true by the election commission. Again, I cannot stress enough that I do not believe that such a scenario was the intent of the legislature or the governor when this act was approved and signed into law in December.”
Shaloy, who was in attendance with other supporters, did not speak.
The election commission determined that it is not charged with the authority to determine whether the allegations are sufficient or true, but only whether they are stated clearly and factually.
The vote of the commission was unanimous to approve the language. If a recall election takes place, it would be conducted in November.