Heated comment in Ontonagon continues
The question of the Village of Ontonagon’s financial condition, over-sight by the village council, and management of the finances continues to be the topic of discussion during public comment at village council meetings.
At the last meeting, it was the Director of the Village’s Cane Court, Karen Jackson. Jackson is appointed to the position by the Housing Commission Board, which in turn is appointed by the Village Council. On the Housing Commission Board is the Village’s Manager, Joe Erickson.
Jackson took over the position when the previous director, Sally Jarvey, retired after being in the position for over 25 years. Cane Court’s secretary, Sue Lockhart, also left her position after over 20 years of working for Cane Court.
For over 3 years Lockhart had questioned the finances of the Village of Ontonagon. Lockhart has asked for the public financial statements of the village. She has also obtained letters from the State of Michigan Department of Treasury dealing with the Villages delinquency on Audits.
Lockhart settled a lawsuit with the village last year. It was another lawsuit against the village that Lockhart wanted to know about.
Lockhart was the first to speak during the public comment period of the teleconference meeting. It was the issue of the Council deciding to cease meeting in Public and going back to handling the meetings over the phone. A policy where The Village President, Village Manager, Village Clerk, and a few of the Council Members meet in the Council Chambers. Other Council Members attend via teleconference.
It was at the previous meeting that Lockhart asked why the Council cannot meet in Public. While the Council did not respond during Public Comment to Lockhart’s concerns about meeting in Public at that meeting, she opened with that issue again.
“As I said before the School is open, bars, restaurants, so I really don’t understand why you can’t have this meeting at the Township Building (Performing Arts Center), as you did 2 meetings ago. There was more than enough distance between everybody,” explained Lockhart.
Lockhart than asked about the Lawsuit filed against the Village dealing with the dredging of the Village’s Marina and portion of the Village’s part of the Ontonagon River. The portion of the River that is not under the responsibility of the US Army Corps of Engineers.
“I asked about the lawsuit with the Marina. If the Village had lost or won that lawsuit. And with the Finance Committee, of all the committee’s why they didn’t know about the 3 accounts of the 50 accounts,” questioned Lockhart.
At the previous meeting the Village’s Auditor agreed with the Michigan Department of Treasury questioning why the Village has 50 separate banking accounts. “Depending upon what the Bank’s policies are, you get a monthly or quarterly statement. I want to know why you didn’t know about 3 of the accounts,” Lockhart stated.
Jackson used her 5 minutes allowed in Public Comment to talk about a Facebook page that questions the Village’s financial situation. According to Jackson, “some of whom (on the page) are not residents of the Village. I really cannot say what is going on with the Village finances other than listening to the Auditors report at the last meeting. It appears that there are some issues. One of which is some over-spending.”
Jackson reaffirmed what Village Manager Joe Erickson has reported to the Council and that the main obligation and financial struggle for the Village is the Municipal Employees Retirement System (MERS). MERS deficit is alleged to be over 1 Million Dollars and is due to the Village’s obligation to past and current employees when the Village transferred ownership of its hospital to Aspirus. This was done due the Village and County residents out-cry to keep the hospital going.
Jackson also agreed with the Auditor and the State dealing with the Village’s 50 Bank Accounts. “Which are already being handled through the Auditor’s report.”
“The main reason for me speaking tonight is to find out the hypocrisy of the situation. During the last meeting I felt like I was sitting outside the Principal’s office listening to some poor ‘shmuck’ being lectured on what he did wrong and demanded to know what he will do to correct his behavior,” Jackson commented.
Jackson than went into what she had heard about Housing Commission business meetings. Many of which she did not attend. “The questions asked at the last meeting by Sue Lockhart are almost identical to the questions and concerns raised by the Housing Commission Board and the Public of the Village Housing Office Staff starting about 2015.”
“I find it ironic that the person accusing the Village of improprieties is the same former employee of the Village Housing Commission during the time that there was an investigation into the Housing Finances,” alleged Jackson. Jackson went into specific allegations, according to her that are similar to those being brought up by Lockhart on the Village.
Jackson went into allegations made on a Facebook page about illegal disposition of Housing Commission property. Allegations she was ‘blocked’ on that page to respond. “Remember there are two sides to any situation. Generally the truth lies somewhere in between.”
Jackson commented, ‘that the reason this is happening. Also to understand part of the reason this is happening. One must be aware there is history between the parties in question here.”
Jackson went into what she and what was reported by Housing Commission Chairman, Richard Ernest, as to how the current Financial condition of Cane Court
Jackson did state, “That you can take almost any audit and interpret it in such a way to help prove your point. I do question those reading the Village audit report because it’s the same party, which when looking at one of the Housing Financial reports accused me of running the Housing Commission in the ‘red’ for the first time in 15 years, when in fact I was 127% above the gross revenue for that time period.”