By C.J. Carnacchio
Oxford Leader Editor
On Monday night the search for a new Oxford Village clerk-treasurer featured two candidates including a local public official.
Teresa Onica current Atlas Township supervisor and Laurena Stewart, former deputy treasurer for the City of Rochester fielded questions from Oxford Village council members for the clerk-treasurer position which has been vacant since last June.
Onica, has served as Atlas Township supervisor since November 2016, defeating incumbent two-term supervisor Shirley Kautman-Jones 651-587.
Prior to that, she served as Atlas Township clerk from October 2000 through November 2016.
Onica was asked if she would step down as Atlas Township supervisor should she take the job with Oxford.
“No, I would like to stay on until November 2020 just because I feel an obligation to (the) people who voted me into office and I don’t really want to just give the seat away to somebody. I have a lot of knowledge and experience and it really matters when you’re conducting business.”
“What I would make sure (that) I have (in place) would be a person in the (supervisor’s) office to handle anything that comes in,” Onica continued. “There would be somebody representing me at no additional cost to (Atlas Township) taxpayers. I would divert some of my pay to that individual . . . I have somebody in mind who’s interested (in doing this) that I think would be a good person for the job and is also interested in (later) running for the position.”
That being said, Onica noted, “If there was somebody suitable . . . (who) I could trust to do the job properly (so) I (would) not have to (pull) double duty (in Atlas and Oxford), I would consider (stepping down). It’s not just about what’s best for me. I want to do what’s best for the township.”
Onica told the council she originally didn’t plan on building a career in the public sector, it just happened.
“Government really never was on my radar,” she said.
She was approached about running for Atlas Township clerk in 2000 and decided to go for it. She defeated the incumbent in the August primary and found herself running unopposed in the November election.
Onica faced her first big challenge before even being elected to office.
In October 2000, two weeks before the general election, the incumbent Atlas Township clerk resigned and Onica was appointed interim clerk.
“I had no prior experience in government or with elections at all,” she said. “I had to train people and learn the job myself in a very short period of time.”
Onica passed her trial by fire, running a successful election with a 76 percent voter-turnout. “Resourcefulness is one of my attributes,” she said.
As a certified municipal clerk, Onica has twice been honored for her work.
The Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks named her Township Clerk of the Year in 2014.
She was also the 2011 recipient of the Loretta Manwaring Award, presented by the Genesee County Governmental Clerks Association for her dedication to public service and innovative work practices.
Onica indicated she takes the responsibility of serving the public very seriously.
“If it’s within my power to help somebody out, then that’s the right thing to do,” she said. “And you should never be afraid to do the right thing.”
She believes both elected and appointed officials have an obligation do whatever is expected of them.
“If they don’t step up to do the job, it makes everybody look bad (and) it costs you more money because then you’ve got to pay somebody (else who’s) going to clean up the mess and/or come in and do the job that they are not willing to do or cannot do,” Onica said.
When asked why she’s interested in making a career change, Onica replied, “Honestly, it would be nice to be compensated for my experience, my education and my knowledge.”
Onica’s current annual salary at Atlas is $37,773. The only fringe benefit she receives is a 457 retirement plan with an annual contribution of 15 percent.
“Are you okay with the salary range that was posted?” asked village President Sue Bossardet.
“Not the low end of the salary range . . . because I do feel that I bring value . . . to this position,” Onica replied. “I’m not really sure how to answer that because everybody would like to start right at the top, but I am not unreasonable.”
The village advertised the position with a salary range of $45,000 to $60,000, plus benefits.
No decision on the vacancy was made that evening.