Ontonagon settles lawsuit with former secretary Lockhart

(Skip Schulz/For the Gazette) Ontonagon Village Housing Commission member Rich Ernest explained the lawsuit settlement with former Housing Commission Secretary Sue Lockhart (in the background of the picture).

Depending upon who you believe, there were two stories pertaining to the lawsuit settlement between the Ontonagon Village Housing Commission and former Housing Commission Secretary Sue Lockhart.

Lockhart, who was the Housing Commission Secretary for close to 25 years, filed a lawsuit against the Village Housing Commission, along with recently appointed Village President Tony Smydra. The village did not divulge any of the written material that council members had, along with materials in the possession of Housing Commission board member Richard Ernest. 

The village refused to state they would give any of the legal documents, Lockhart said during her limited five-minute public comment.

“If anyone wants the deposition of the case, I’m willing to give it to you,” she said.

The lawsuit appeared to relate to alleged slander against Lockhart. According to Lockhart, she first sought a simple apology from Smydra and Ernest, and was not looking at the money she would have received by keeping her job until retirement.

According to Ernest, who read the legal statement from the Housing Commission attorney, the lawyers simply looked at the “economics,” and decided that it was in the best interest of the vllage’s Housing Insurance Company who ended up paying the settlement.

In reading the letter from the attorney, Ernest stated that it was better to settle for $25,000 in place of going to court and further legal fees.

According to Smydra, Lockhart lawsuit was for $900,000. Smydra stated that when one looks at the final amount of the lawsuit ($25,000) in comparison to the $900,000, Lockhart did not get a good percentage of what she sought.

Whether it was a coincidence or simply the timing of the heated discussion at Monday night’s Ontonagon Village Council meeting, Village manager Joe Erickson reported on the financial position of the village-owned Cane Court.

“For the first time since at least 2005, revenues exceeded expenditures and the ‘Net Position or Net Worth’ increased by over $100,000,” said Erickson. “For Net Position that is 23% improvement over the previous year. The Net Position that is 23% improvement over the previous year.”

“It should be noted that this year was the transition year for the administration of the housing complex,” said Erickson, who is also a member of the Ontonagon Village Housing Commission.

The Housing Commission executive director Sally Jarvey had been with Cane Court for over 35 years. Jarvey was not at Monday night’s meeting.  When she resigned from her position, the Housing Commission hired Karen Jackson, a former employee of the Ontonagon Postal Service Office.

At the end of Ernest’s comments, he stated that if the council has any questions, she (Jackson) is at the meeting. Jackson did not speak.

Ernest emphasized that the settlement did not claim that he, Smydra, or the Housing Commission is guilty of any of the legal accusations and that the final outcome was simply a settlement. He stated that “word around town” is that Lockhart won the lawsuit, and he emphatically stated that she did not win the case.

Ernest gave his presentation as a part of the council agenda. Lockhart made her comments under the Public Comment section of the meeting.

As a part of her comment, she asked the council why they did not hire the other applicant for the village building inspector position.

“The other applicant had his state license for the position, and would be ready to go on Day One. Ernest does not have the state license,” she said.

Ernest has been offered the job, providing he gets his certified state license. Ernest was also appointed and serves on the Village Downtown Development Authority. Ernest is also an active volunteer with the Ontonagon Chamber of Commerce.

Norm Pestka wanted to speak on the issue regarding the lawsuit during his Public Comment time. Smydra asked him not to comment as this issue was on the agenda. Pestka in past council meetings has questioned the motives of Lockhart and others that inquired about Pestka’s working relationship with the village, including a recent alleged removal of property from the now demolished Wagers Restaurant.