Emotions take over Onaway meeting

ONAWAY – Disagreement over Onaway city commissioners’ decision to eliminate the city police force boiled over at their meeting Monday, prompting one city official to call the sheriff.

Shortly after commissioners began addressing city business, Mayor Gary Wregglesworth called a recess due to repeated interruptions from audience members, City Manager Joe Hefele said. Prior to this, Commissioner Bernie Schmeltzer had made a comment to an audience member, prompting another to say something commissioners perceived as a threat.

Earlier in the meeting, Schmeltzer, Wregglesworth and other commissioners tried to respond to concerns raised by some members of the audience during public comment period, Schmeltzer said. They were interrupted repeatedly, and the disruptions continued until Schmeltzer asked audience member Connie Gibson, whom he incorrectly perceived as the source of one particular interruption, to “grow up.”

“In the 28 years that I’ve been an elected official, I’ve never faced the disrespect that I did from those people,” he said.

Gibson remembers the wording differently, she said. Although she couldn’t remember verbatim, she recalls Schmeltzer telling her to “shut her mouth,” and that she was “acting like a spoiled brat.”

Wregglesworth recalled hearing Schmeltzer saying something similar.

After Schmeltzer’s comment Gibson left, and another audience member made a remark Schmeltzer and others perceived as a veiled threat, according to accounts from Hefele, Schmeltzer and Wregglesworth.

Judy Shaloy made the comment, she said. After Schmeltzer singled out Gibson, Shaloy stood up and told him he had no right to speak in such a manner to another man’s wife.

“I stood up and told him … ‘If my husband were here, he’d come across that table and deck you,'” she said, adding she and Gibson left the meeting together and didn’t return.

Both Schmeltzer and Wregglesworth said they remember Shaloy saying that Schmeltzer would be dead if her husband were there.

Shaloy rejects threatening anyone’s life, directly or otherwise, she said.

“No, absolutely not, never,” she said.

At that point, Wregglesworth called a recess and another commissioner called the Presque Isle Sheriff Department. Jim Gibson, Connie’s husband and former police chief, demanded an apology from Schmeltzer as he left, and deputies arrived some time later, after the meeting had resumed.

Schmeltzer said he thought the interruptions were coming from Gibson, but apparently came from Shaloy, he said. He apologized later in the meeting.

“I said if I had incorrectly named her, I shouldn’t have,” he said, adding he wished he had made a more general statement about not interrupting others, rather than demeaning an audience member.

Schmeltzer blamed the wear of negative public comments over the past several months for his own, but later said this did not excuse his reaction.

In the meeting’s aftermath, Connie Gibson believes there’s been too much mudslinging on both sides of the debate, she said. She still supports her husband and his former department, but believes people are sick of hearing it on both sides.

“Emotions are running high, and I don’t want people to think bad of our group,” she said.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.