Onaway: Six seek 2 seats; 2 face recall

ONAWAY – Two Onaway City commissioners are facing a recall election as they run for another two-year term.

Public outrage over the elimination of the Onaway Police Department prompted a group of city residents to file recall language against the mayor and Commissioners Chuck Abshagen and Jessie Horrocks. The commissioners face recall if voters choose James Grainger and Roger Marsh.

On the same ballot, Abshagen and Horrocks are among six candidates running in a regular election for two seats on the city commission. They’re running against Grainger and Marsh, as well as Richard Norman and Brad Porter. Porter is also on the spring ballot, and asked that voters skip over his name for this election.

If the two commissioners are unseated in the recall, their replacements would serve until Dec. 31, according to ballot language. The winners of the general election would be voted into a full, two-year term.

Both Abshagen and Horrocks said they hope to continue working on projects that could bring positive developments to the city, and share concern over whether their challengers can navigate the city’s tight finances.

As a commissioner and business owner, Horrocks considers herself a voice for other local businessmen and women, she said. She’s 54, and has served on city commission for 17 years.

“I feel personally that the people that are doing the recall, it just scares me the … direction they would go with a new council,” she said. “I think things would eventually fall apart if not sooner than later.”

Abshagen, 68, shares that concern, and said he he questioned how they would fund a reinstated police department. Abshagen also rejected accusations that he and other city officials ignored other options to keep it. City residents trust him to use taxpayer money more carefully than he uses his own, he said, and eliminating the police department was part of using their money carefully.

The public “never presented us with any options that would’ve saved us the amount of money we needed to save in order to balance the budget,” he said.

After two stretches as commissioner, Abshagen said he still has a lot to offer. He served for 16 years starting in the 1970s, and was reelected in 2007 after some time off the commission. A Western Michigan University graduate, he taught at Onaway schools for 37 years. As a member of other local, state and organization boards, he’s still active in the community.

Grainger is running in both the recall and the regular election, he said. He’s a life-long Onaway resident, except while serving in the United States Navy. At 57, he’s a working foreman for a power line maintenance company and has served with a handful of local fire departments.

“My whole pitch is, I do believe the voters should have a choice and should be listened to,” he said.

If elected, Grainger said he would strive to keep voters informed of city happenings, and to work for the merchants in town. These businesses are vital to the city, and everyone deserves to know what’s going on in their community, he said. He’s also running to give voters another option besides the incumbents.

Marsh, 56, also is running in the recall and general election, he said. He served as Onaway’s police chief before Gibson, and he said worked he for 31 years in law enforcement. A Pontiac native, he served with the United States Marines and worked in Onaway’s police department for 10 years.

As commissioner, Marsh said he’d like to see if it’s financially possible to bring back the police department. He understands the city’s budget is limited, but is concerned current officials aren’t working to bring the department back.

“To say, ‘If I get elected the first thing I’m going to do is bring back the police department,’ that’s wishful thinking,” he said. “Obviously, it’s going to be when and if it ever becomes financially feasible.”

At 27, Norman is the youngest candidate. He said his youth is an asset, as he’ll bring a fresh perspective to city government. He grew up in Onaway, spent a few years out of town, works at a local automotive parts store and owns a small business.

If elected, Norman would work to widen the city’s family appeal, and to set an example for younger people to get involved in their community. He’d like to update the city’s website with more information about what the city has to offer to families and employers to attract new faces.

“I think the city needs a rejuvenation,” he said. “It needs more of an appealing factor than a retirement community. I want to revive it, and make it a place where business and families want to come and thrive together and succeed together.”

Unlike other candidates, Porter said he does not want voters to pick him on Tuesday. He’s running in the May recall election against commissioners Bernie Schmeltzer and Ron Horrocks, and tried to withdraw from the current election. The deadline to withdraw had passed, so he’s asking for voters to choose Marsh and Grainger over him.

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.