Ontonagon Council addresses Wagers demolition and property removal

Skip Schulz/For the Gazette Frank Podmorka addressed the Ontonagon Village Council on getting a zoning variance for a carport/garage that he has already begun construction on. The Zoning Board and the Council approved his request with minor changes to the construction.

After over a month of Ontonagon Village Council members, village residents, and village employees talking and asking questions about Norm Pestka Construction entering the former Wager’s Restaurant late at night and removing equipment, the issue was in the forefront of this past week’s council meeting.

For the first time, Norm Pestka addressed the council regarding what he states was an agreement between his company and Village Manager Joe Erickson to enter Wagers and remove equipment.

However most of his comments were directed at “a small group of people.”

“The people making these accusations are absolutely idiots,” said Pestka. “I guess it’s a part of this group in the back here… I’m not pointing fingers.”

Pestka than talked about “an investigation” that he claims was taken by some local citizens, “which we can assume who that was.” Later in his discussion, he stated that he thinks the investigation did not come from the city, “but came from someone within our community.”

Pestka said everything his company removed is where it should be and agreed upon.

“Why should we have to go through this now,” he asked, in regards to the investigation. “I think axes should be ground in the back of the woodshed like when I grew up.”

Pestka also attacked one media source.

“Then you get the paper writing stories thinking it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Nobody’s checking into this, they just write stories.”

The incident in question took place the morning after the late night entrance and removal of the property. The Gazette went to the village offices to get information on the entrance and removal of property. When the village manager was too busy to talk to the Gazette, a village employee did not give out any information.

At village council meetings after Pestka Construction entered the soon-to-be-demolished former bar and restaurant, residents and council members discussed this incident.

At the May 13 meeting, village council member Sarah Hopper asked President Pro Tem Tony Smydra for an update on the entrance and removal of property.

“The matter is under consideration,” Smydra said. “It would be inappropriate to talk about this. There’s legal issues.” Village President Gerard Waldrop did not attend that May meeting.

None of the council members or the village manager responded to Hopper’s question at that May 13 meeting.

“The problem that I see in this community is you got a select few that go on and just make stuff up,” Pestka said. “What about the people that are making stuff up, should they be held accountable. What I do right is totally 100%. I have no reason to do anything wrong. First of all, why would I?”

He continued to talk about that group of people.

“My attorney in Marquette said a libel suit, especially if you get the State Police report that somebody falsified,” said Peskta. “If someone didn’t tell the whole story, that’s really the problem for the folks of the city. Not the city folks, but the whole town. I’ve been to jail, it’s not a big deal. I’m not going to jail because I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Then Village President Ken Waldrop stated that he wanted to clarify the issue.

“People came to the next meeting demanding if this was the process,” he said. “I said that hasn’t been determined. I gathered the paperwork, and went to the police as President of the village and said, ‘I don’t want to determine if this is a crime or not. You guys want to go ahead and determine if this is a crime or not.’ They said, ‘too late, someone else has already filed a complaint on it and we’re investigating it.’ The results of the investigation work is that it was not a crime.”

The village council received two bids for the Wager’s demolition, and granted Pestka Construction the contract for $76,500. WR Construction of Negaunee gave a bid of $96,300. Council Member Sarah Hopper questioned the bid from WR Construction as she said when she calculated the costs of the project from WR, they came in less than $96,300. WR Construction stated in their bid that they cannot guarantee that the job would be done by the Labor Day festivities.

While not in his bid dealing with getting the job done by Labor Day, Norm Pestka also had a concern with getting it done by Labor Day. The $50,000 grant the village is receiving for the project states that the demolition has to be completed by Oct. 1.

While the agenda was changed to conclude the meeting with a report from the personal committee, that report was a lengthy report read by Council Member Tony Smydra from his laptop. His statements were directed to the council to give a formal apology to Pestka Construction.

Other than Waldrop, everyone supported a formal apology. Waldrop stated that he cannot support the apology as he feels the agreement between Erickson and Pestka should have been in a written report.

“The agreement was for Pestka Construction to pay for an asbestos abatement study for both the Courtesy Garage building and the Wagers building,” Smydra said. “In return, Pestka Construction was authorized to remove and dispose certain materials from the Wagers building. It is the understanding of the personal committee that the video-taping of the event in question was done by a competitor of Pestka Construction.”

Smydra stated that due to the investigation, the council was not allowed to comment. He also stated that the village did not contact the Sheriff’s Department or the Michigan State Police for an investigation. He stated that the investigation was brought by “individuals who attend council meetings in an antagonistic manner.”

Smydra also used this time to attack the Daily Mining Gazette. He stated that the reporting from the Gazette exasperated the issue.

No one from the public or the Gazette was allowed to respond to Smydra.

“This is council business,” he said.