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Ontonagon faces meeting changes and write-ins

For years the Ontonagon Village Council has met twice a month. The past few years the meetings were held on the second and fourth Monday of the month.

However the meeting scheduled for Sept. 28 was cancelled. Then the meeting for Oct. 12 has been postponed until Monday, Oct. 19.

Unlike the Sept. 28 meeting where Village President Tony Smydra or Village Manager Joe Erickson did not give a reason publicly on the cancellation.

Smydra sent out a press release pertaining to the postponement of the last meeting.

“The recent decision from the Michigan Supreme Court has nullified most of the Executive Orders issued by Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer. Among those was E.O. (Executive Order) No. 154, which allowed the village to conduct meetings electronically by phone conference. On Monday (Oct. 5), the Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an order under the Michigan Public Health,” Smydra said in the release.  “Code, restricting indoor gatherings to 10 persons or less, requiring face masks and social distancing. These recent events have created uncertainty as to whether the village council can safely and lawfully hold a public meeting.”

While the Michigan Supreme Court struck down Whitmer’s executive orders, the cancellation does not take effect until Oct. 21.

The council has been dealing with financial questions and concerns from residents and taxpayers for over a year. Preceeding the village controversy on its finances, the village has settled a lawsuit with a former employee. Before that, the former president failed to notify the council that he had moved out of the village four months before he resigned.

After his resignation, the council appointed Smydra as president, and appointed Maureen Guzek to fill Smydra’s position on the council. Guzek is the owner of the local newspaper.

All this has led to a number of people running for council positions as write-in candidates, including Pam Coey who will run against Smydra for president. Mike Mogen has decided not to run for another four-year position, the other long-time trustees seeking re-election will be Elmer “Junior” Marks, and Don Chastain. This will be the first time that Guzek will run to be elected as a trustee. 

Those running as write-in candidates for trustee positions will be Dan Sullivan, Bill Johnson, and Bob Rotundo. All three are running for the four-year terms.

The one candidate, Jessica Huntzinger, who is running for a two-year position, has reportedly already moved out of the area. She is a former employee of Copper Country Social Services. Despite leaving the area, Huntzinger will remain on the ballot. The question to be answered deals with how her position will be filled if she is elected and not living in the village. 

Marks and Chastain have been on the council for a combined 20+ years.    

In Michigan, villages are exempt from having the voters decide if they want term limits or not. Term limits are allowed for other municipalities. Over 20 years ago, the voters in Michigan voted by a margin of 58% to 42% to have term limits for state representatives, state senators, and even federal elected office-holders. However the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state cannot impose term limits on the Congress or Senate.

State Representative Greg Markkanen wants to see the voters of villages have the right to hold a referendum whether they want term limits or not.

In a letter to the citizens of the village of Ontonagon from Coey, Bill Johnson, and Dan Sullivan, reads, “It is a time to make a fundamental change, one that puts our people first and the process of governing second, to the needs and wants of the people. We need to take back our community and make it the place that we want to be.”

The three acknowledge the challenge they have in running as write-ins. The letter states, “this undertaking will not be easy; write-in campaigns are notoriously difficult, but it can be done.”

The three promise to listen, and make the residents of the village their first priority.

“We intend to involve you, engage with you, and serve you,” they said.

The other write-in candidate, Rotundo, has been involved in economic development in the area for a number of years. Rotundo has decided to not run as a part of the other three write-in candidates, but has spoken at the last meeting of the Ontonagon County Republican Party.

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