Council member kicked off, then added back on

ONTONAGON — Controversy continues to plague the Ontonagon Village Council. From wasteful spending on a kayak landing, to lawsuits against the village, to appointments of council member’s personal friends, and now to an appointment to a vacated council seat.

When former Village President Gerard Waldrop was forced to resign when he did not inform the council that he moved out of the village, the council appointed Tony Smydra to the president position. That appointment opened up Smydra’s council seat.

Only two people applied for the vacant council seat. Both applicants had been appointed to the often-heated Ontonagon Village Housing Commission, a board that has also been the victim of heated comments from the public at council meetings.

The applicants for the council vacancy were Carl Haas and Maureen Guzek.

On Nov. 11, the council appointed Guzek. 

Guzek is the owner of the local paper. At the December meeting, village resident William Johnson stated that in an ad in her paper on Dec. 18 and on Dec. 25 that the Ontonagon Herald was listed as being in arrears of village property taxes. According to Johnson, Michigan Municipal League shows a law where anyone that is in arrears of taxes or other debts to the municipality cannot serve on the council.

According to what Johnson stated during his public comment in December, that law also pertains to other village-appointed boards and commissions. “That means that this law is not just for the council, but also other appointments,” said Johnson in reference to both the council and the Village Housing Commission.

While his name was not mentioned, Johnson’s allegations were interpreted to refer to the village’s appointment of Richard Ernest to the Housing Commission.

Ernest was also appointed to the village’s Building Inspector position, a position that requires a state certification, which Ernest does not currently have. Ernest’s appointment is based upon him first getting his certification.

That position also had another applicant, who had certification.

Johnson’s comments got the council to confer with the village’s attorney, Doug Muskett of Bessemer.

This prompted the council to pass a resolution at this week’s meeting. In the resolution it states, “whereas, the council has determined that the alleged delinquency is not the subject of appeal or a contested court case. Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the office of trustee for the village of Ontonagon, as held by Maureen Guzek, is declared vacated.”

With Guzek not being in attendance of the meeting, the rest of the council unanimously supported the resolution.

Right after passing that resolution, Smydra stated that the arrearage had been paid. This prompted the council to unanimously support re-appointing Guzek to the council.

Smydra stated in the meeting that the law that Johnson had stated at the December meeting only dealt with the “governing board of the village.”

“The General Law Village Act does cover the village and village operations. Mr. Muskett also indicated that the applicable law covers officers of the village,” said Smydra.

“Currently, the only officers of the village of Ontonagon are the six council trustees, the village president, and the village clerk. Consequently, the wording of the General Law Village Act is relevant to councilperson Guzek but not relevant to Commissioner Ernest.”

After settling out of court with Lockhart on a personal matter, the council went into closed session at the December meeting dealing with a lawsuit filed by the company that was hired to do the dredging of the Ontonagon River by the village-owned marina and harbor.

There was no discussion on that lawsuit at this week’s council meeting

In another issue that has been brought out by Ontonagon Township resident Sue Lockhart dealt with an ordinance of having chickens within the village. She did not specify who she thought was in violation of a village ordinance, but the alleged individual came out in Smydra’s president report.

In his report, Smydra stated that the Michigan Right to Farm Act exempts certain areas of the village from Ordinance #2009-10.

“Ms. Hopper lives in an area that is zoned R-1, owns and lives on 20 acres within the village limits, and her property is located more than 1,500 feet from a hospital, school, church, or park, and has five or fewer occupied residences within one-quarter of a mile from her residence,” Smydra said.

Sarah Hopper was elected to the village council position in 2018 by a substantial margin.