Buchanan mayor releases statement on decision to suspend city manager

Published 2:11 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2023

BUCHANAN — Buchanan Mayor Sean Denison issued a statement Tuesday in response to the recall filed against him last Friday as well as the paid suspension of City Manager Benjamin Eldridge. 

Eldridge started his duties as city manager in late June and was suspended with pay in early November. The suspension was the topic of several citizen comments at last week’s City Commission meeting and also formed the basis of recall wording filed with the Berrien County Clerk last Friday. 

The recall wording filed by residents Carla Johnson and Monroe Lemay states “City Commissioner Sean Denison suspended Benjamin Eldridge as the Buchanan City Manager”. The Berrien County Election Commission will meet Monday, Dec. 4 at 1 p.m. at the St. Joseph Courthouse to decide the clarity of the recall wording. 

Tuesday, Denison acknowledged that he had suspended Eldridge with full pay and benefits. 

“As many of you know, a recall petition was filed against me last week because of my decision to suspend the City Manager, with full pay and benefits, until the City could conclude an investigation of employee workplace complaints against the City Manager,” he wrote. 

Denison stated that he would not have suspended Eldridge pending the results of the investigation had there not been a city commissioner who shared the complaints with the city manager.  

“These complaints were shared with all members of the Commission, who were asked to keep the complaints confidential to protect all parties, until the City could investigate the complaints,” he wrote. 

“If confidentiality had been maintained, the City could have left all employees working in place until the conclusion of the investigation. However, one Commissioner could not honor this request and disclosed the employee complaints to the City Manager before a full and fair investigation could even be started.” 

Denison said he made the decision to suspend Eldridge as chief executive of the city under state law and on the advice of the city’s attorneys. He said he made the decision “To protect all of the parties, including the City Manager, from further workplace complaints or claims of retaliation.” 

Denison said Eldridge is suspended with full pay and benefits “until the investigation could be concluded and reported to the Commission for consideration in a public meeting.” He said they gave “the City Manager, with his attorney present, notice of the complaints against him and an opportunity to present his side of the story.” 

Denison claimed no laws or contract rights have been violated. 

“Some disagree with my decision, but the choice was between removing one person from the work environment or many City Hall staff members, to the harm of the City operations and citizens,” he stated. 

He said the investigation and process remains underway and he wants the city commission to address the issue as soon as possible after the Thanksgiving holiday. He said Tuesday’s statement to the press which was released by city staff is his alone and does not represent the position of the city or city Commission. 

Although Denison didn’t name City Commissioner Dan Vigansky as the person who gave confidential information to Eldridge, Vigansky himself has acknowledged that he did it. “I did not release anything confidential, I gave him info that they were going to railroad him out with,” he said at last week’s commission meeting.