ONAWAY - Voters in Onaway will decide the fate of their mayor, who faces a recall after city officials eliminated the local police department.
Mayor Gary Wregglesworth is being challenged by Jim Gibson, formerly chief of Onaway Police Department. He and two city commissioners are on the ballot after a group of city residents petitioned to recall them. The move stems from a public uproar after the city fired the one-man police force in the face of a budgetary shortfall.
The winner of the mayoral recall will serve the remainder of Wregglesworth's term, which expires at the end of 2014, according to ballot language.
Wregglesworth has been a city official for 16 years, including 14 as mayor, he said. He was born in Rogers City and raised in Allis Township just outside of the city. He's 51, has been married for 24 years and has three daughters.
There are positive developments happening, and he'd like to finish his term as mayor and possibly serve another to see them through. Moran Iron Works is expanding its workforce and opening a facility in town. The company's expansion has created a need for housing, one city officials are working to alleviate. City officials and employees also are seeking grants to improve local infrastructure.
"As long as there's still worthwhile things to do, I'm good staying there" as mayor, he said.
City business and finances requires experience to handle, and Wregglesworth said he's concerned the recall candidates don't have the know-how to do so. The city has around $230,000 in its fund balance, but that money is needed to meet expenses throughout the year. There's only so many places the city can raise revenues, and raising taxes any higher would require voter approval.
"There are times I've been there and when November came around, we didn't have enough money to pay our bills," he said.
Gibson said he believes city officials had other options besides eliminating the department, and commissioners ignored or disrespected those who were in favor of keeping it. Both are accusations city officials have repeatedly disputed, but Gibson referred to a city survey showing two-thirds of respondents wanted to keep the police department.
"The city commission ignored that, that's basically what sparked the recall," he said.
Gibson, 55, joined the Navy after graduating from high school in Battle Creek, he said. He started as a law officer in 1986 after earning his associate degree, and moved to Onaway in 1999. Shortly after, he became police chief and worked the job for 14 years. He's married and has three stepsons and two children of his own.
As mayor, Gibson would work to give the people a voice and encourage them to attend commission meetings, he said. He supports reinstating the city's police department if city residents demand it, and would have to resign as mayor to serve as chief according to city charter.
There's a disconnect between current officials and those they serve, Gibson said, and he wants to bring increased transparency to city hall as well. Locals trust him even though he's not originally from the area, and he rejected claims by city officials that he and two city commission recall candidates would bankrupt the city.
"I think that I have the ability to lead the city into the future, and hopefully change some things that have been wrong in the past," he said. "I think that holds true for the other candidates."
Either way, Gibson said he wants residents to get out and vote. Turnout is typically low for local elections, and he'd like more than a handful of people to decide the future of the city. A high turnout, regardless of how voters choose, will show clearly where the city stands.