Buchanan names new city manager

Published 8:00 am Thursday, May 4, 2023

BUCHANAN — It looks like Buchanan will soon have a new city manager. Buchanan City Commissioners interviewed three candidates Wednesday afternoon and decided at the end to extend an offer to Millersburg, Indiana Superintendent Benjamin Eldridge. 

Buchanan Mayor Sean Dennison and City Commissioner Patrick Swem will now lead the city’s contract negotiations with Eldridge with the goal of the city commission approving that contract at their May 22 meeting. 

Frank Walsh of Walsh & Associates led the city manager search and said Wednesday that a third party background check will also be done before the final contract is signed. The city manager position was advertised with a salary range of $96,000 to $105,000. 

Walsh, a former St. Joseph city manager, assisted Buchanan in another city manager search 20 years ago when the city hired Mike Hughes, who left Buchanan to go to Sturgis. Hughes resigned as city manager there in January. Walsh praised the commission on the three candidates they chose to interview, saying all three were well-prepared and had researched the city. 

Regarding Eldridge, Walsh said he had strong references to his character and work. “If I would say one word about him, it would be gentleman,” he said. 

Eldridge, 51, lives in Goshen and has been employed by the town of Millersburg for more than two decades. He and his wife, Michelle, have two grown children. He is a professional water and wastewater operator with over 20 years of experience in local government management and operations and community development.  

Eldridge described Millersburg as a small farming community of 1,000 people. He said he started out working in the town’s street department and then got his water and wastewater operator’s license. He has continued to do more and more for the town and has overseen several community projects including building a new city hall. 

It was Eldridge’s experience in water and sewer operations as well as his frank comments about the Buchanan city budget that appeared to impress city commissioners.  

Commissioner Dan Vigansky said the city needed his water and sewer knowledge as it deals with some ongoing infrastructure projects. Swem agreed, adding that Eldridge is a “realist” and “understood the budget better than anyone” interviewed Wednesday.  

“Listening to his interview, I couldn’t stop writing down what I liked about his answers,” Swem said. “His answers to all the questions were well thought out.” 

“I like that he can pivot and be adaptable,” Denison said. “He has the experience we need and he’s also calm and doesn’t get riled up. He would get my vote.” 

Commissioner Larry Money said he liked the words Eldridge used such as wanting to be a visionary. Commissioner Mark Weedon was there for all three interviews but had to leave before the vote to hire Eldridge. Swem said Weedon told him that Eldridge was his pick before he left. 

Denison said his only reservation about Eldridge is the fact that he lives in Goshen and would have a 45 minute or so commute to Buchanan. 

When asked what makes him the best candidate for the job, Eldridge cited his experience in local government. “I’ve been where you guys are financially and with infrastructure and utilities,” he said. “I know everything is daunting, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” 

“Buchanan has big goals like developing the riverfront,” he added. “The city was dead in the water at one time but you have righted the course. A great community has the ability to re-invent themselves and I think you’ve done that.” 

He said he decided to apply for the Buchanan job he doesn’t see room for more professional growth in his current position and wants to bring his experience and knowledge to other communities. “I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and get things fixed,” he said. “I know there will be a lot of hours at first but I’m not afraid of putting long hours in.” 

He called his three greatest traits as his honesty, his responsibility and being a visionary. He said he will have an open door for staff, commissioners and citizens and will keep commissioners up to date with what’s going on.  

His goals for his first year are to balance the budget which now has a deficit, meeting the benchmarks set by the city commission and having a good working relationship with staff and with local businesses. He also plans to focus on customer relations with the public and taking an inventory of what the city has and how that inventory can be utilized. 

The other two candidates interviewed were former Niles City Councilman Robert Durm who is the assistant transportation director for the South Bend school corporation and Bryan Hall who is a Niles resident who is a Walgreen’s store manager in South Bend. 

The city parted ways with Heather Grace in mid-February and hired Walsh Municipal Services to conduct the search later that month. They also hired Tim Lynch, the recently retired manager of the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph Wastewater Treatment Plant, as the interim city manager. Grace had been the city manager since August, 2020.