Recall wording approved for Buchanan commissioner, mayor
Published 12:11 pm Thursday, December 21, 2023
BUCHANAN — Berrien County Election Commission members approved recall wording Monday against Buchanan Mayor Sean Denison and Buchanan City Commissioner Dan Vigansky.
The recalls are expected to move forward pending an appeal by either man of the election commission decision. They both have 10 days to appeal the decision to Circuit Court which will delay when people can start gathering signatures. If the required 380 signatures are gathered against each, the recall elections could happen in May or November next year.
Residents Carla Johnson and Monroe Lemay filed the Denison wording which said he should be recalled for suspending then City Manager Benjamin Eldridge in November. Resident Jacob Brown had recall wording approved against Vigansky that quoted Vigansky as saying he always refers to “Blacks, Mexicans and Indians as ‘you people’.”
Four City Commissioners voted last week to censure Vigansky on four charges and start the process of removing him from office. Three charges were related to the suspension of then City Manager Ben Eldridge in November and one related to the civil rights complaint brought by resident James Busby and referred to by Brown in his recall.
A September letter from City Attorney Matthew Derby to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights on the Busby matter stated that the city had not violated civil rights laws but in fact had tried to “address and remediate any alleged wrongdoing” committed by Vigansky at a June intergovernmental meeting.
In his complaint to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights on July 3, Busby said he had been “subjected to a hostile environment” based on his race at the June meeting. Busby said he felt threatened by Vigansky’s statements about “you people” and “those people” as well as an alleged statement by Vigansky for Busby to watch his back.
Derby wrote that city officials requested that another resident at that meeting, Tony Houser, file a complaint against Vigansky. Houser did file a complaint in June but later withdrew his request for a city commission censure hearing. Houser was a witness to the meeting and Vigansky’s interaction with Busby.
Derby said City Clerk Kalla Langston contacted Houser in an attempt to get him to change his decision on withdrawing the complaint “to no avail”. He added that then Interim City Manager Tim Lynch contacted Busby to tell him the censure hearing was not going forward.
Derby noted that neither Busby nor anyone else filed a complaint with the city about Vigansky’s conduct and avail themselves of the city’s censure process. “… the City Commission was willing to hold a public hearing on the Houser complaint, or any other related complaints, despite public opposition to such action,” Derby wrote.
Derby’s September letter to the state would appear to confirm the statements Vigansky made in July when the Houser complaint hearing was canceled. He criticized fellow commissioners for voting to hold the hearing and the city attorney for the advice he gave on the subject.
“The only thing I’m guilty of is being politically incorrect,” he said in July. “I’m not going to apologize for my personality … If people really listen to anything I’m saying, it’s all about the money and trying to keep the city from spending too much.”
For his part, Vigansky filed an affidavit last week with county and state officials stating that the charges against him were exaggerated and “trumped up”. He has filed complaints with the county for what he sees as the city’s violation of the Open Meetings Act.
“The allegations against me are grossly exaggerated and based entirely on improper and imagined inferences and speculations,” he wrote.
“… The allegations were trumped-up and orchestrated by the Mayor and my other fellow Commissioners in retaliation for and to distract from my calling out their repeated violations of law in dealing with our former City Manager Benjamin Eldridge,” he added.
Vigansky claimed that Mayor Sean Denison does not have the legal authority to suspend Eldridge. He further claimed that he gave a copy of the anonymous grievances to Eldridge because he was concerned about the city’s potential liability in breaking state law in keeping the grievances from Eldridge.
Vigansky said that Denison’s suspension of Eldridge without a vote of the city commission violated the City Charter and the Open Meetings Act. Further, he said Denison violated the Bullard-Piawecki Employee Right to Know Act by not giving Eldridge a copy of the grievances.