Supervisor Teresa Onica was forced to defend herself at the July 16 Atlas Township Board meeting after two residents expressed concerns about her taking a second job with the Oxford Village government.
In late June, the village council voted 5-0 to approve an employment agreement with Onica to make her the municipality’s new clerk/treasurer.
Her first day on the job was July 2. While working for Oxford, Onica is continuing to serve as Atlas Township’s supervisor, an office she’s held since being elected in November 2016. Prior to that, she served as the township’s elected clerk for 16 years beginning in 2000.
Onica is now the second member of the Oxford Village administration to hold an elected position elsewhere. Village Manager Joseph Madore, who’s been on the job since December, is also the supervisor of Richfield Township in Genesee County. Similarly, the Ortonville Village Manager, Bill Sprague, who has served since March is also the mayor of Lapeer.
Despite precedents for dual roles among local officials Goodrich resident Keith Walworth expressed his concerns to the board of trustees on Monday night.
“I don’t understand how you’re going to represent us when you’re in the Village of Oxford,” Walworth said. “How are you going to attend meetings in the county that you’re required to go to?”
“You mentioned in the newspaper you were going to bring someone in to assist you,” he said. “Is that person going to be an employee of the township? Or is that person an employee of yours? If it’s an employee of yours, are you going to 1099 them? Are you going to take Social Security and FICA out of them? They are also going to be seeing confidential information. The people hired you to be our supervisor, not for someone else to act as a supervisor. I don’t understand why you’re doing us a disservice. I think you should resign. I don’t think you’re representing Atlas Township residents.”
Township resident David Jones questioned a proposal on the meeting agenda to increase the township’s deputy clerk’s working hours. While not approved by the board on July 16, the proposal was necessary, say officials, to assist the current township clerk.
“You threw the clerk’s office under the bus to get another employee to work more hours,” said Jones. “I believe the additional hours for the deputy clerk (were) going to cover the extra responsibility of the supervisor. No one mentioned that whatsoever, but it’s (an) injustice to township residents.”
Pat Major, a township trustee, defended Onica.
“She has been (working in) the other position for a couple of weeks,” Major said. “I have found nothing she hasn’t done that she should do. I would challenge the people that either don’t like her, or for some reason politically disagree with her, to please come to me if you find something she is not doing that she should be doing. Because two out of the last three supervisors had full-time positions, it seems pretty ridiculous to me that people pick on her for something that two out of the last three supervisors have done. To better her family, to better her life, to better herself, if you know what the supervisor’s jobs are, they are getting done. Please come to me.”
In 1996, Richard Pifer defeated Rudi Deschner and was elected as township supervisor. Pifer, who served four years as supervisor continued to work in the aviation industry. In 2000, Paul Amman was elected as township supervisor and served eight years. Amman was retired. Then in 2008, Shirley Kautman-Jones was elected and served two terms as supervisor while managing her own local business.
“I don’t feel I have to really defend myself with any decision I made,” she said. “I will continue to serve the township well. The question that was posed to me when I was considering my options (was) ‘what benefit and what good would it be for me to leave the township right now and have someone without experience, someone without the resources I have cultivated over my time?’ I may not be highly compensated at $37,000 per year, but I am highly qualified.”
The township has paid to make that education happen for me, to attend classes, attend seminars and other training for the job of supervisor, added Onica.
“I have been a full-time employee even though I’m a part-time elected official,” she said. “So, are the other people sitting at this table with me. We don’t have any employees or staff to do our job. The reason we have a healthy fund balance is that we have made the sacrifices on behalf of the township and not hired people to do our work for us. We know what’s going on, (we) take our job seriously. I meant what I said when the time comes and I have a plan, I will put a person in place and the township is not going to pay for that person. But, I can defer some of my pay to cover the cost, whatever it is, to attend meetings or whatever I feel . . . needs to be covered to make sure the township is run properly. That person will not be supervisor, I will be. I will see confidential information. I will prepare the budget and run the meetings.”
“It was not an easy decision for me,” Onica said. “I love this township. It does make it hard to leave. But I can’t do this forever. You’re not going to notice this. It should be a seamless thing. I understand your concerns.”