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Ontonagon votes on firing manager

ONTONAGON — It was not until the Ontonagon Village Council came out of a closed session that the fireworks exploded. 

The council’s most recent elected member, Sarah Hopper, made a motion to dismiss Ontonagon Village Manager Joe Erickson. Hopper got the support for her motion from Don Chastain, with the council voting after.

Voting with Hopper and Chastain was President Tony Smydra. 

Voting to keep Erickson were long-time councilors John Hamm and Elmer Marks. Appointed to the council to fill Smydra’s vacated seat was Maureen Guzek. Councilor Mike Mogen was not at the meeting.

Thus the vote was a 3-3 tie, keeping Erickson in his position as manager.

Erickson did not know this vote was going to take place, as it was not announced until the start of the meeting when Smydra amended the agenda to have what was labeled an “employee matter.” 

Thus that prompted the cuncil to go into Closed Session after all old and new business was taken care of.

As usual, the agenda included a report from Erickson and Smydra.

What has become a common part of Smydra’s president’s report is accolades for someone in the village followed by a grievance of the appointed president. Smydra commended Syl’s Restaurant for her outdoor dining. Dining on the village’s sidewalk was approved by the council. Smydra then was upset with someone putting flyers on people’s windshields dealing with actions taken by the council or the village.

During Erickson’s manager report, discussion took place about the issue of how the village and communities throughout Michigan are facing, including revenue sharing, which comes from the taxes residents pay to the state, revenue that has seen a major reduction due to COVID-19. 

“Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer is expected to sign the budget deal this week, for the remainder of the fiscal year,” said Erickson.

The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

“The village will receive an additional $2600 under this agreement,” Erickson said. “However our constitutional revenue is expected to be $4000 to $5000 less.”

One of the biggest issues that has been facing the village deals with the Michigan Employment Retirement System (MERS) that includes the pension benefits the village is responsible for when the village sold the hospital to Aspirius. The sale did not include the pension benefits for past and current hospital employees who worked at the time of the sale.

“After meeting with the Finance Committee, and getting a number of questions answered by MERS, the Finance Committee will be exploring the option of a plan conversion to a Defined Contribution Plan of Division 10, including hospital retirees,” said Erickson. “The conversion will allow the pensioner the option of their current pension fund into another retirement savings plan, such as a 457 or 401k.”

Erickson also reported on the governor’s release of a number of executive orders. This included the previous order that was set to expire on July 31. He also reported on the CARES Act grants, which the village could receive some funding from. 

Also in his report was the Redevelopment Ready Community Baseline Report and where the village stands on that.

“The village meets 13 of the 41 criteria, 18 being partially met and 10 not being met,” he said. “Of the 18 partially met, five of them can be easily achieved, mainly through website updates.”

The council agreed to pay the increase of $5,600 from the original bid for work done on the Pebble Beach street project. The council also agreed to purchase a software upgrade in accounting for $4,115. The council voted down a request to share the cost of three new nets at the village/school tennis courts. The village’s share would be $175.00. Thrivent Action Team had pledged a grant of $250, Ontonagon School District would have given $150. The village council part would have been $175.00.

Don Sharkey addressed the council during Public Comment dealing with sidewalk issues. The council met at the Ontonagon Performing Arts Center in an effort to allow the public to attend the village council meetings. The council plans on continuing to meet at the PAC until the governor’s restrictions due to COVID are lifted.

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