Buchanan parts ways with City Manager Heather Grace

Published 12:21 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2023

BUCHANAN — The city of Buchanan has parted ways with City Manager Heather Grace. City Commissioners approved a separation agreement with Grace at their meeting Monday night. They had voted a week ago at a special meeting to end her employment with the city. 

No details were given about the reasons for the commission’s actions. Grace has been city manager since August, 2020 when she was hired to succeed William Marx who was retiring. She was previously the city manager of West Branch, Michigan and also had been an attorney and a legislative assistant in the Michigan House of Representatives. 

The commission’s action to approve the separation agreement with Grace came after a half hour closed session with the city attorney. The vote was unanimous with Mayor Sean Denison absent. Denison had been present at the Feb. 6 meeting where the vote was unanimous. 

The separation agreement outlined that Grace will receive 90 days salary as severance pay and also 90 days of health benefits. She will also get a lump sum payment of $12,064.88 for accrued unused sick and vacation days.  

Grace was in the last year of a three-year contract with the city that would have ended in September. The city’s 2021-22 budget listed Grace’s salary as $86,240. 

While they didn’t talk much about Grace Monday night, commissioners did thank city staff for carrying on with city business. Grace’s tenure included progress on a number of city projects as well as the city’s being recognized by Reader’s Digest as “The Nicest Place in America”. 

Commissioner Larry Money said the last week had been “quite the ordeal” and thanked staff for keeping everything going. Commissioner Patrick Swem told staff “we believe in you”, adding “we’re here, we’re strong and still moving forward.” 

Mayor Pro-Tem Mark Weedon said times of transition are tough but that the decision to part ways with Grace was the best for everybody including Grace.  

“Without her, we wouldn’t have the staff we do today,” he added, singling out staff she hired like City Clerk Kalla Langston, Community Development Director Rich Murphy and City Treasurer Debrah Perez. 

“Please do business as usual,” Weedon told staff members. “We are all here to serve the city and the community.” 

Weedon said after the meeting that commissioners will address transition issues at their next meeting on Feb. 27. Those issues include naming an interim city manager and starting the process to find a new permanent city manager. 

In a press release from the city after Monday’s meeting, Weedon thanked Grace for her efforts on behalf of the city. “The City Commission would like to thank Heather for her contributions to the City of Buchanan and we wish her the best in her next endeavor,” he stated.  

The press release also included a statement from Murphy on behalf of city staff, saying that staff members are fully committed to implementing the “Vision for Buchanan” plan.  

“I am passionate about the Vision we have created together and that we are seeing unfold right now in Buchanan,” he stated. I can’t say enough about our talented team of department heads and city staff that work hard every day to ensure that Buchanan will continue to be ‘The Nicest Place in America’.” 

Grace received praise from city resident Monroe Lemay in public comments. “I’d like to say something about Heather Grace,” Lemay said. “… Her management and leadership were good for Buchanan.” 

The commission’s last performance review of Grace was conducted last fall, with a copy provided Tuesday under the Freedom of Information Act. 

Grace was scored in several areas including organizational management, fiscal management, intermediate and long range planning, intergovernmental relations, relationship with the public, management of employees, relationship with the city commission, professional development, personal characteristics and completion of 2022 goals. 

Grace received an average 3.07 score out of 5 for all areas, with her lowest scores coming in organizational management, fiscal management, intermediate and long range planning, management of employees, relationship with city commissioners and relationship with the public. 

She was also scored on 10 specific goals and received a cumulative score of 2.85 out of 5, with some of her lowest scores coming on successful completion of the DPW building, water/sewer bill impact strategy, overhead efficiency review, city owned property and structure strategy and community enrichment strategy.