Buchanan commissioners to discuss city manager’s employment status Wednesday

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, November 28, 2023

BUCHANAN — The question of whether Ben Eldridge will continue as the Buchanan City Manager could be answered at a special Buchanan City Commission meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Buchanan City Hall. Eldridge has been on paid suspension since early November.  

City Commissioners voted to hold the special meeting at Monday’s regularly scheduled commission meeting. The Wednesday special meeting was described as a one “to consider the employment status of the City Manager”.  

Mayor Sean Denison said Wednesday’s meeting would be open and Eldridge would be given the chance to speak about the 42 allegations made against him by staff employees. Eldridge’s supporters have said that staff made the allegations in retaliation for his cost cutting efforts to balance the budget. 

People again spoke in support of Eldridge at Monday’s commission meeting. Alan Robandt said there was a systemic problem with the city staff and read memos from former City Manager Heather Grace, who was let go in February describing how employees would go around the chain of command and go directly to elected officials with their grievances. 

Resident Carla Johnson said Buchanan will become “radioactive” and not a place where any city manager would want to work if they fire Eldridge.

“No one will want to work as city manager after you’ve taken a good man with an impeccable record and character assassinated him,” she said.  

She warned that Eldridge came into a situation where the city is in danger of being taken over by the state because of budget deficits. “Do you intent to neuter, destroy and fire a city manager who’s doing what has to be done?” she asked. 

Regarding the Eldridge matter, Denison said he had hoped to have a private investigation done of the allegations against Eldridge without suspending him which he called “best practices.” He said employees could have come forward without fear of institutional retaliation if City Commissioner Dan Vigansky hadn’t given the complaints to Eldridge. 

He said he received the allegations from staff from more than one city department on Nov. 3 and contacted the city attorney as well as commissioners. He asked commissioners to keep the information private which he said Vigansky failed to do. 

“The attorney said it would be an unhealthy and toxic environment for employees if the city manager was allowed to return to work,” Denison said. He said he had not considered an alternate solution of allowing Eldridge to continue to work remotely. 

For his part, Vigansky said he believes Eldridge had the right to know the allegations against him by employees. He moved to take Eldridge off paid suspension and get him back to work but the motion was defeated on a 4-1 vote. Those voting no were Denison and Commissioners Larry Money, Patrick Swem and Mark Weedon.  

Vigansky himself ended up on the hot seat during the meeting as the four other commissioners voted to hold a special meeting soon on charges that Vigansky violated the city’s code of conduct and ethics as well as the city rules of procedure for commission meetings.  

Denison read a list of four charges against Vigansky and said at least two of the charges have been referred to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department. No date has been set for the Vigansky hearing but Denison said he hopes to hold it as soon as next Monday on Dec. 4. 

Denison said the commission has three options: to censure Vigansky, to censure and request his resignation and to vote to ask for his resignation and file charges with the governor. 

“I don’t take this lightly,” Denison said. “It’s become extremely clear to me that Dan Vigansky is a detriment to the city. He is holding us back from doing the real work of the city.” 

The Eldridge suspension has also thrown in doubt Denison’s own future. Recall wording was filed against Denison on Nov. 17 and a clarity hearing will be held next Monday, Dec. 4 at 1 p.m. at the St. Joseph courthouse. The wording reads “City Commissioner Sean Denison suspended Benjamin Eldridge as the Buchanan City Manager”.