Onaway officials dispute petition language approval

ROGERS CITY – A recall effort against two Onaway city commissioners can go forward after a Presque Isle County Circuit Court judge upheld the petition language Monday.

City Commissioners Ron Horrocks and Bernie Schmeltzer are unhappy with Judge Scott Pavlich’s decision to uphold a petition filed by the city’s former police chief, James Gibson. Gibson filed the language July 19, a day after the Presque Isle County Elections Commission struck down the same language used on a petition to recall Onaway Mayor Gary Wregglesworth and Commissioners Chuck Abshagen and Jessie Horrocks. The elections commission accepted Gibson’s new petition, and Horrocks and Schmeltzer appealed.

Pavlich upheld Gibson’s claim on the petition, pared down from three originally offered by Onaway resident Judy Shaloy, for the same reason the county elections commission did, Schmeltzer said. The statement accuses Horrocks and Schmeltzer of refusing to “explore or take advantage of offers or options from citizens or outside governmental agencies” to keep the city’s police department, according to the petition. Both city commissioners reject the allegation, and contend the statement should be rejected because it is false.

“That’s part of the state law,” Schmeltzer said. “Basically if you read the word, what does ‘factually’ mean? ‘Factual’ is a statement of truth as defined in the dictionary.”

Both Schmeltzer and Horrocks said they believed Pavlich didn’t correctly interpret a recent change in state law requiring recall petition language to be both clear and factual. Previously, Elections Commission Chairman Donald McLennan said the commission doesn’t have the authority to determine whether statements are true or false, but whether they’re factual or conclusory.

Horrocks said he believed the recall language was judged based on the old state law.

“My reaction would be that the judges aren’t doing their job, they don’t understand what the word ‘factual’ is,” he said.

Both commissioners also voiced their disappointment that the city will have to pay $2,000 or more for a special election in May 2014 if the petitions are turned in and signatures are verified. Unlike Abshagen, Jessie Horrocks and Wregglesworth, their recall election won’t be part of the November ballot.

Anyone who wants to know more about what the city considered to keep its one-man police force can call Schmeltzer, he said.

“Our decision was an economic one, and I think the coverage we’re receiving now from the Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Department and the Michigan State Police is, by far, better than what we received before,” Schmeltzer said.

Gibson could not be reached for comment on the court’s ruling, but said in July he believes the city commission ignored options and offers to save his department.

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.