Buchanan mayor facing calls to resign following city manager’s suspension

Published 12:43 pm Tuesday, November 14, 2023

BUCHANAN — There was a full house of residents wanting answers at Monday’s Buchanan City Commission meeting and they came away without getting many answers about why new City Manager Ben Eldridge has been suspended from his duties.

        City Commissioners did not provide any reason for Eldridge’s paid suspension, telling people instead that answers would come in the future. A planned closed session during the meeting was cancelled after Mayor Sean Denison said interviews had not been completed and that commissioners had received an email memo from the city attorney.

        The motion to amend the agenda to remove the closed session was approved on a 4-1 vote with Dan Vigansky voting no. A motion by Vigansky to fire the city attorney died for lack of a second.

A short time later, Vigansky forced Denison to allow former County Commissioner Don Ryman to make his public comments on the Eldridge situation at the start of the meeting although it was no longer an agenda topic. Vigansky noted that Ryman is 96 years old and he should be allowed to speak then and not later in the meeting.

Ryman said the commission is spending the city into bankruptcy with its staffing decisions and having to pay out people’s contracts.

“You appear to be spending us into bankruptcy,” he said. “The new city manager required people to use a time clock and the community development director refused. Who gets suspended? The city manager.”

Other residents also talked about the high staff turnover in recent years and led some to call for Denison’s immediate resignation. Since 2020, the city has had four city managers, three city clerks, two bookkeepers and three treasurers which they said has caused both instability and expense to the city.

Resident Monroe Lemay went further and said people would be starting the process of recalling Denison from office later this week if he didn’t resign. Elected officials can be recalled after they’ve served one year of their current term in office.

“There has been incompetent and bad decision making in the city government and the mayor has shown an inability to lead,” Lemay said. “We ask for the mayor’s resignation and we will follow up with recall efforts as the first year of his current term is up this week.”

Jeannine Davie said the large staff turnover at City Hall leads her to believe there are systemic problems within city government.

“It all leads me to believe that the city government has systemic issues,” Davie said. “I’m concerned about the dismissal of the city manager. We need to identify what’s wrong with city government and fix it. We citizens would like to see him re-instated. If city staff is not happy with him, they can find other jobs.”

Those supporting Eldridge said he is being punished for doing his job and trying to cut costs. Carla Johnson noted that he has reduced employee overtime cost by instituting a time clock and reduced staff debit card limits from $5,000 to $500. He also reinvested city funds to get higher interest rates.

Benjamin Eldridge. (Submitted)

She was among those who praised Eldridge for reaching out to people throughout the city, from the downtown to the neighborhoods.

“My father (Harold Jackson) was on the city commission for years and he taught me that you listen to the people, you don’t make them come to you,” she said. “He’s made the effort to speak to people.”

Downtown business owner Tom Jolly noted that Eldridge was the first city manager to come into his shop during his 15 years in Buchanan. He also called on Denison to step down, calling him morally and ethically corrupt. He questioned whether it is good management to keep firing city managers and having to hire a head hunter to find a new one.

Resident Tom Wilson also asked city commissioners to listen to the city residents.

“You need to consider who you are representing,” he said. “A lot of people here tonight would like to replace you.”

At least one commissioner asked for patience from residents and for them to wait to get answers. That echoed the statement put out by the city on Nov. 6 which read “The issues concerning the city manager are confidential in nature and we will be updating all of you at the appropriate time after proper procedures have taken place.”

“Understand that there are certain things we cannot say,” Commissioner Mark Weedon said. “When it becomes a legal matter, we cannot tell you what’s going on … What people ask maybe can’t be answered right now. In due time things will come out. You may not like the answer, but you will get an answer.”

Eldridge, a Goshen resident, was not in attendance at the meeting. He was placed on indefinite paid suspension Nov. 3 by Mayor Sean Denison. Eldridge was hired in May and began working for the city in late June.

Eldridge had no comment when contacted before the meeting. He said he did not attend Monday’s meeting on the advice of his attorney and had no comment on the situation. He also would not confirm that he had been suspended with pay.