Buchanan City Commission hosts Vigansky censure hearing

Published 10:36 am Tuesday, December 12, 2023

BUCHANAN — Buchanan City Commissioners continued to deal with other aftermath of the Eldridge controversy Monday, starting with the censure hearing against City Commissioner Dan Vigansky and later voting to hire a new city manager.

The public hearing to decide whether to censure Vigansky came after Mayor Sean Denison announced four complaints against Vigansky in late November. Denison said that Vigansky had violated the city’s rules and procedures and code of conduct and ethics.

Vigansky did not attend the hearing which ended with the four remaining commissioners finding that Vigansky committed four offenses of misconduct in violation of the city rules of procedure and code of conduct.

The four complaints were that Vigansky had addressed black residents attending a local governmental board this summer “you people” and “those people”, that Vigansky had given the grievance list to Eldridge when asked to keep it confidential, that Vigansky had called the grievances retaliatory against Eldridge without reading them and that Vigansky had harassed city staff about the grievances filed against Eldridge.

The public hearing featured sworn testimony by Denison, two city hall employees and two black residents. It was noted that a complaint has been made to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights over Vigansky’s “you people” statements to black residents at the summer meeting and to the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department over the alleged harassment of city staff.

Resident James Busby said he had a confrontation with Vigansky over the summer. He said Vigansky called blacks and others “you people” and “those people” and the two had a confrontation during which Busby also told Vigansky to stop being both racist and sexist. Busby said the city commission should love and respect people and not tear others down.

Two residents did speak in support of Vigansky during public comments at the end of the hearing. Alan Robandt noted that Vigansky could not be found guilty of retaliating against city staff when the grievances were mostly anonymous with the accusers not known.

Monroe Lemay quoted the last words of the pledge of allegiance that states with liberty and justice for all. She said other city commissioners were just as guilty as Vigansky of stereotyping different groups of people. She also noted that others in city government gave the grievance list to outside business people in the city.

Denison said afterwards that a resolution of censure against Vigansky will be drawn up and be brought back to the city commission for a vote at the next meeting Jan. 8. The resolution will formally censure Vigansky and call on him to resign. If he refuses to do so, the commission will take any legal action to remove him up to asking the governor to do so.

Clarity hearings for two competing recalls are set for next Monday, Dec. 18 at 9:30 a.m. at the Berrien County Administration Center. Recall wording has been filed against both Denison and Vigansky, Denison for suspending Eldridge and Vigansky relative to the four complaints listed above.

The new city manager will be Tim Lynch if contract terms can be agreed on. Lynch, the retired manager of the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph Wastewater Treatment Plant, served as interim city manager earlier this year from late February after Heather Grace resigned and until Eldridge started his duties in late June.

Few details of the proposed new contract with Lynch were given but City Commissioners noted that Lynch would like to start as soon as possible and wants a one year contract that could be renewed. City Commissioner Patrick Swem reported on his discussions with Lynch who he said he approached after Eldridge’s resignation Nov. 29.

The motion approved Monday night gives Denison the authority to hire Lynch if both sides can come to contract terms. Swem said he and Lynch had been talking about terms of the proposed contract with both sides making changes. The proposed contract currently calls for Lynch to be paid a salary of $104,000.

Denison said after the meeting that any contract questions will be negotiated by Lynch and the city attorney and then he would sign the contract once there is an agreement.

City commissioner Dan Vigansky voted no on authorizing Denison to hire Lynch. He said he likes Lynch and would like to see him come back but didn’t agree with the process used to get Lynch to come back.

“When was the meeting to give you the power to reach out to him?” Vigansky asked Swem, adding that he had filed an Open Meetings Act violation with the county against the four other commissioners and the city attorney. Swem replied that he reached out to Lynch just as any other commissioner could do.

Besides reaching out to Lynch, Swem said he had also contacted Frank Walsh who conducted the city manager search in the spring. Swem said Walsh said his company would conduct another search for the city at no cost in the future since Eldridge stayed less than six months.