Two Onaway city commissioners face recall Tuesday

ONAWAY – Three Onaway residents are seeking to unseat two city commissioners in a recall election Tuesday.

Brad Porter is running to unseat City Commissioner Ron Horrocks, and Roger Marsh and Richard Norman are running to unseat City Commissioner Bernie Schmeltzer. City Manager Joe Hefele said the winner would serve out the remainder of Horrocks’ or Schmeltzer’s terms, both of which end on Dec. 31.

The recall stems from commissioners’ 2013 decision to not renew Onaway Police Chief Jim Gibson’s contract and eliminate the police department. Commissioners said the move was to close a budget shortfall, but unhappy city residents signed petitions to recall the entire city commission. Mayor Gary Wregglesworth and Commissioner Chuck Abshagen survived the effort, but Commissioner Jessie Horrocks was unseated for five weeks by Marsh. She was elected to another two-year term, and resumed her role in January.

Since Horrocks and Schmeltzer started their terms in January 2013, the recall for them had to start later, according to state election laws. Gibson filed the petition.

Horrocks said he’s lived in Onaway all of his 68 years, and cares about the community. He thinks he has something to contribute to the city’s quality of life, and that the recall election is unnecessary.

Horrocks is married to wife Jean, and attended Onaway Area Community Schools and Alpena Community College, later serving on the district’s Board of Education. He’s also served on the Onaway Area Chamber of Commerce and Awakon Credit Union boards as well, and is the district deputy for the Knights of Columbus for Northeast Michigan. This is his third term as commissioner.

“My belief is that I served my hometown of Onaway with honesty, pride, commitment and with the desire of sharing a vision of the fiscal reality,” he said. “This challenges all of us to try to make a paradigm shift and think beyond the status quo.”

Porter, his challenger, said he wants to guide the city into a more prosperous future, and has served two terms as city commissioner in the past. The recall is about more than the elimination of the police department, and Porter wants to help the city balance out its economy to retain residents.

At 49, Porter is married with two children, he said. He is chief operations officer of Porter Survey, and graduated from DeVry University with a degree in electrical engineering.

“I cannot make change on my own,” he said. “Obviously, it takes a majority vote. I’m asking people to vote for me to start that change so that we can start making the positive enhancements to the city and drive this community into the future.”

Marsh is running to unseat Schmeltzer because he believes he should follow the old adage of “lead, follow or get out of the way,” he said. His main reason for getting involved is the elimination of the police department. He’s a former member of the city police department as well, serving as chief from 1991 to 1999, and believes the department’s elimination wasn’t handled properly.

Marsh, 56, has lived in Onaway since 1989, and is married with three children. He grew up in Pontiac, served with the Marine Corps for 6 1/2 years after high school and started his law enforcement career in Tampa, Fla.

“I’ve been telling people there is no real reason to vote for me, it depends on what you are looking for in a candidate,” he said. “I’m not politically correct… I don’t talk with a lot of fluff or rhetoric. My mouth gets me in a little trouble sometimes. When I see things that are wrong, I speak up.”

Norman is also running to unseat Schmeltzer, and at 28 he’s the youngest candidate in the race. He ran in the regular election in November 2013, and is hoping to have achieved more name recognition this time. Onaway used to be a thriving town, and he wants to be a representative who listens to the people’s ideas for how the city can thrive again.

Norman has lived in Onaway for 20 years, and is a 2005 Onaway High graduate. He owns Dickie’s Auto Spa in Onaway, and attended North Central Michigan College in 2010. He plans to return to earn his degree in business management.

“I feel that I could get really involved with the community by attending events, being there and putting my face out there, talking to members and doing whatever I could within my power to make sure their opinions and voices are heard to make this more of a family-friendly, community-friendly area,” he said.

Schmeltzer said he’s running because he believes he has something to contribute to Onaway, that he can make a difference and that his 29 years as commissioner prove his commitment to the city. He believes he’s not afraid to take a stand on tough issues, and that the city’s arrangement with the Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Department for 16 hours a week of additional patrol for $25,000 a year is a good one.

Born in Marquette, Schmeltzer, 67, has been married to wife Kathy for 44 years. He got his bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Northern Michigan University in 1969, and got a job with Onaway Area Community Schools that year. He became assistant superintendent in 1995 after earning his master’s in school administration ten years earlier. In 2000, he retired after 31 years with the district.

“I’m able to see both sides of most issues, and I will continue to do whatever it takes to make Onaway a better place to live,” he 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.