by Angie Asam-Staff Writer
Judge Scott L. Pavlich ruled Monday to deny the appeal filed by Onaway City Commissioners Bernie Schmeltzer and Ron Horrocks. Schmeltzer and Horrocks were appealing a decision made by the election commission Aug. 1 which approved recall language filed by former Onaway Police Chief Jim Gibson.
The recall language states that “commissioners Ron Horrocks and Bernie Schmeltzer refused to explore or take advantage of offers or options from citizens or outside governmental agencies to retain the Onaway Police Department.”
Schmeltzer said that Pavlich ruled the same way that the election commission did last month that the statement was factual as someone could take a stand on either side. Schmeltzer does not believe that the language is factual however and has defended that many times. In a clarity hearing in July, in which the recall language was rejected by the election commission, he gave a definition of factual.
A new Michigan law on recalls is unclear as it states that the election commission should meet to “determine whether each reason for the recall stated in the petition is factual and 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. If any reason for the recall is not factual or of sufficient clarity, the entire recall petition shall be rejected.”
The language of the law is vague and makes it difficult for election commissions and judges dealing with appeals of recall language to take a stand. As they cannot investigate the matter to determine if it is factual, they merely have to decide if it is based on fact and clear, leaving it up to voters to decide what is true.
“Factual is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘based on or concerned with things that are known to be true.’ The key part of that definition I would argue is known to be true. Opinion meanwhile is defined as ‘a belief or assessment based on grounds short of proof, or what one thinks about a particular topic.’ The recall language here clearly fits the definition of opinion, it does not come close to meeting the definition of factual,” said Schmeltzer at the Aug. 1 clarity hearing.
Mike Vogler was privately retained by Schmeltzer and Ron Horrocks to represent them in the appeal while Gibson represented himself in the appeal on Monday. Schmeltzer said there is no evidence to suggest that he or Mr. Horrocks refused to explore other options when it came to the Onaway Police Department.
At the clarity hearing on Aug. 1 he offered this information. “There is not a shred of evidence to back up this allegation. The fact of the matter is that discussions about the future of the Onaway Police Department (OPD) took place over several months and during that time a multitude of options were explored,” he said.
The options Schmeltzer told the commission it explored included a tax increase that would have allowed Onaway to retain its police department, an OPD comprised of sheriff’s deputies working part-time shifts, an OPD funded partly by neighboring townships and an OPD to be operated on a part-time basis by our former chief of police.
“The fact that we explored these options before voting not to extend the employment of the former chief of police, in effect terminating the OPD, is reflected in the agendas, council packets and minutes of the meetings conducted between January and May of this year,” said Schmeltzer.
“This paperwork proves that the language – that we failed to explore other options – not only is opinion, it is unequivocally false and certainly doesn’t meet the definition of factual. The fact is that each of the options I’ve touched on was explored, and then rejected.”
Schmeltzer continued by discussing things in further detail. “The petitioner has alleged that Presque Isle County offered the city $25,000 to put toward the continued operation of the OPD. If this is a fact, as the petitioner alleges, I believe he should show proof of such an offer. The fact of the matter is that no offer was ever made, as was stated clearly to this board by Presque Isle County commissioner Bob Schell at an earlier hearing to consider recall language against fellow members of Onaway’s governing body.
“The petitioner has also alleged that an offer was made by a resident of Allis Township to raise money to allow the city to continue to operate its police department. Again, no offer was ever made. This person simply asked how much would have to be raised to allow Onaway to continue to operate its own department. We answered that question with an approximate dollar amount and timetable, and did not hear from that individual again.
“It is impossible to ‘take advantage’ of offers that don’t exist and the statement that commissioner Horrocks and I ‘did not explore’ other options that were presented to us is not only opinion, it is fictional, not factual. The record reflects that multiple options were explored. Again, the onus is on the petitioner to prove that his allegation is factual and not simply an opinion,” said Schmeltzer.
Schmeltzer said, “It was brought up that commissioner Altman had talked, they were in a meeting, I believe it was in January, our city manager and one of our city commissioners were here meeting with the sheriff. During that meeting commissioner Altman, and I don’t know the wording because I wasn’t there, said something to the effect of maybe we could give $25,000 to the city for the police. That is not an offer by a governing body. It can only be an offer if there was a motion, a second and a majority vote by the Presque Isle County board,” said Schmeltzer. He also told the commission he could supply them with a tape of an Allis Township meeting that had Becky Crawford’s offer on it.”
Schmeltzer and Ron Horrocks appeared at two clarity hearing, with the language being approved at the second and now have gone through the appeal process only to find themselves where commissioners Chuck Abshagen and Jessie Horrocks as well as mayor Gary Wregglesworth found themselves, the subjects of a recall.
Voters will go to the polls in Nov. to vote on the recall of Abshagen, Jessie Horrocks and Wregglesworth while a special election, one that will cost the City of Onaway around $2,000 will have to be held in May to decide the recall of Schmeltzer and Ron Horrocks.