Political newcomer Challenging mayorPublished 9:06am Friday, October 30, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Working behind the counter at The Manor for five years must be somewhat like being a bartender or a beautician in the way customers pour out their problems and freely bandy about all manner of commentary and suggested solutions.
“People coming into the store or meeting people through Sears, going to houses and chitchatting, I always heard people complain about why can’t we have this or why can’t we do that. I’d approach them with my ideas and they’d say, ‘Why don’t you run?’ Last year I was offered to go for Border Patrol officer and move to California. I decided to give this a shot first.”
“There are too many drugs floating around,” in mayoral candidate Scott Wreggitt’s assessment. “Something needs to be done. This is the worst town I’ve ever seen for drug trafficking.”
Wreggitt, 27, came to Dowagiac in 2002 from Salt Lake City.
He moved here to train with Institute for International Development (IICD) on Dailey Road for six months of aid work in Africa, but Zimbabwe would not admit them for more than 30 days.
Rather than return to Utah, he went to work for Marathon at Five-Mile Corner.
Wreggitt worked for Sears for a year, delivered the Daily News, volunteered for the fire department for a year and finally joined The Manor, which he lives above.
He said he quit the fire department because he didn’t like former chief Harold Munson’s attitude, but he and Deputy Chief Dale Hutchings were the first firefighters on the scene when the apartment above Marci’s Variety Store caught fire.
“It was a nice, quiet town,” he said Thursday morning of his impression of Dowagiac.
“Thought I’d give it a shot. Since two years ago, everybody in the town of Dowagiac has been bugging me to run because I’d always suggest ideas. Last year Howard Hall pushed me to do it.”
“I give Mr. Lyons credit for everything he’s done and will do,” Wreggitt said of challenging Mayor Don Lyons, who seeks his fourth term Tuesday. “I only know of him. This is my first time running for office. My mom is on the community board in her town” in Canada.
Dorie Mactino, a rancher an hour outside Sault Ste. Marie, wrote the 2003 book “Goats in the Kitchen,” which she promoted by painting a school bus purple so her children could travel with her.
“She’s got Christmas light competitions and ginger bread competitions and she gets businesses to put up Christmas trees,” Wreggitt said. “The town judges. It’s up to the town. She’ll get businesses to donate prizes or gift cards. She got a bunch of snowmobilers together to give kids rides, with an area designated for hot dogs and hot chocolate to warm the kids up before they take them back home.”
“I’m not going to tread on (Lyons’) history. He’s legend to Dowagiac. It’s up to the town of Dowagiac. I’m not going to try to fight him over running for mayor. If people choose to have him back, they can have him back. If they choose me, they choose me.
“But if Mr. Lyons goes back in, I would like to help him work with industry of Dowagiac because that’s the major concern here. Everyone’s losing their jobs. Everyone’s on unemployment and having trouble trying to keep their house. That’s a major concern here in town and I don’t see anything being done about it. I’m talking to my brother up in Canada about major corporations up there that could expand down here and give these people some jobs back. He’s working on his end.”
Turnover at the store distracted him from campaigning, plus he said he is studying pre-law at Southwestern Michigan College.
“When I’m out and about, I let people here and there know” of his candidacy, Wreggitt said. “I’m still pursuing it, and if Mr. Lyons wants to debate and argue on it and hear my side of the story in front of the public, I’ll go for it if he’s up to it, but I’m not going to tread on his waters.”
Wreggitt’s platform makes working on “bringing jobs back to town number one. My second proposal is to start working with the community and these kids who seem to keep getting in trouble. Do something for the kids,” like a recreational center he envisions erecting on the vacant Jessup Door block with a swimming pool.
Or, “Maybe Wonderland Cinema (in Niles) would branch out with a small four- or five-row theater,” Wreggitt suggests.
“Nothing big or fancy. Or maybe bring a bowling alley. For instance, there’s this building right over here up against the tracks. If half of that could be sold to the town, we could turn it into a bowling alley.”
“There’s a lot that can be done to spruce this town up and a lot it could offer,” Wreggitt said.
Youthful volunteers could be put to work cleaning up along the creek to create the walkway occasionally talked about while the activity could keep them out of trouble with adult supervision.
“The community works together to make things happen – not work against each other,” he said. “Up there in Canada, the community’s been working together pretty nicely. There were no Christmas lights, no nothing. Ever since my mother got on the board and got things going, the town lights up now. She put dances together once or twice a month for the teen-agers with pop and snacks. No drinking. There was a skating rink for winter, but in the summer it was for Rollerblading.”
How does he propose to pay for a recreational center?
“Find people willing to donate their own time,” he said. “There are ways to go about this, you’ve just got to dig for it. It’s a matter of looking for the resources and pushing for it. You’ve got to motivate to get it done, not take years before you finally decide to get around to it and all the kids are grown up.
“Youth is one of my biggest concerns along with industry.”
Wreggitt said the city could take a lead role in working with churches to conduct food drives to help those who are struggling.
The economy “is hard on everybody,” he said. “My grant only covers so much of my college. I’ve got to cover the rest of it. I’m barely making it, but I make it. I don’t stand back chillin’, watching other people suffer. I help.
“People in the store like to talk about their problems. I talk with them and if there is some way I can help them, I will. If they’re short of food or they’re having a problem paying their electrical bill, I tell them to wait until Friday when I get paid, let me see where I stand and let me see what I can help you with. Don’t worry about returning the favor, worry about getting yourself on your feet. Don’t worry about me. I’m managing so far living above my job.”
Wreggitt said his mother, a registered nurse, found an 80-acre ranch in Canada to move to from Utah.
“Nobody wanted it because around the entire house up to the woods it was all clay and rock. No topsoil on the surface,” he said. “It’s still taking her to this day to work the land, but she’s working it. She’s got fences up for the horses, cattle, the whole nine yards. Matter of fact, an elderly Seventh-day Adventist offered his property to her for a steal of a deal, including the land, the cattle and all the equipment for haying the fields. She’s been working his land. In exchange for the price he gave her, he can live on the land until he passes. I come from a big family of four brothers, including me would be five, four sisters and three step-brothers.”
One of his sisters, who moved back to Salt Lake City, is serving in the Army in Iraq.
She is due home Nov. 29.
His youngest sibling is “6 or 7.”
Wreggitt said his mom has been urged to write a second book.
“My mom came to visit me with the purple school bus,” he said. “She made it part of the book tour. She put beds in it to make it a mobile home so she could take all the kids. She wrote ‘Goats in the Kitchen’ on both sides of the bus. We went to the drive-in theater and everyone was talking about it.”
While with IICD, he traveled to Denmark and Norway for a couple of weeks, hitchhiking extensively.
He visited Germany when he was 16.
“My mom’s originally from Germany,” Wreggitt said. “One of her great-uncles works on the drug team. He had me convinced to transfer over there to finish high school, go to police academy and follow in his footsteps, but I was the oldest and my mom wanted me back home.
“My whole path would have changed if I went over there. I would have had so many opportunities up my sleeve, so much I could have traveled to see. I would have been in heaven.”
He was born in Salt Lake City and graduated from high school in Canada.
“She moved to Canada in 1993,” he said.
“My high school was maybe a little bigger than Dowagiac. I went back to Utah after Canada. No offense to any other town I’ve been in, Utah will always be considered home. My memories as a kid are all there. We lived close to the city limits, but outside, because my mom was allowed to have rabbits. People are really friendly there. Salt Lake City is really Mormon Latter-Day Saints. I still practice. No drinking, no smoking, no tattoos, no piercings. The closest church here is Niles.”
Wreggitt, who said he voted for President Obama in 2008, also runs a small tree service as a sideline.
“I voted for him to give him a shot and see what he can do. It doesn’t hurt to take a chance and see what they can do for the country,” Wreggitt said.
“I know (Mayor Lyons) is going to be hard to beat,” he said. “I sat in on a town meeting one time and there was a gentleman who approached Mr. Lyons regarding the Amtrak situation because no one can buy a ticket here in Dowagiac, no one knew when the trains were coming because there was no schedule posted and when people get off at night the doors are always locked. They can’t go in and sit down and stay warm in the winter. There was a discussion that if nothing was done, it would be taken away from Dowagiac.”