Effort to recall Vigansky submits signatures

Published 5:43 pm Thursday, March 7, 2024

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ST. JOSEPH — The recall effort against Buchanan City Commissioner Dan Vigansky is moving forward with petitions containing 398 signatures turned in this week to the Berrien County Clerk. If the petitions contain enough valid signatures, Vigansky will face a recall election this November.

Recall wording against both Vigansky and Buchanan Mayor Sean Denison was approved in mid-December. City resident Jacob Brown submitted the wording against Vigansky, quoting Vigansky as saying he always refers to “Blacks, Mexicans and Indians as ‘you people’.”

Residents Carla Johnson and Monroe Lemay filed the Denison wording which said he should be recalled for suspending then City Manager Benjamin Eldridge last November. They are in the process of collecting signatures.

County Election Administrator Klemesrud said last December that 380 valid signatures would have to be submitted to force a recall election. That number represents 25 percent of the number of Buchanan city residents who voted for governor in the gubernatorial election in 2022.

She said Tuesday that the process has now started to review the submitted signatures to make sure they are valid. The recall laws call for a preliminary check of signatures within seven days, voter registration and signature checks in days 15-22 after receipt of the petitions as well as challenges by Vigansky within 30 days.

Recall elections can be held just twice a year, in May or November and Klemusrud said the deadline has passed for getting on the May ballot. That means the Vigansky recall, if enough signatures are found to be valid, will be on the November ballot when two other commissioners, Patrick Swem and Larry Money, will be running for re-election.

The November election could feature four of five city commissioners on the ballot if signatures are also submitted for Denison’s recall. With the recalls, the ballot would feature the names of the recalled candidate or candidates and people interested in replacing them on the city commission.

Besides the recall, Vigansky has also been under attack by his fellow commissioners. The four other commissioners voted in December to censure Vigansky for misconduct and then voted in January to ask Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to remove him from office.

That misconduct included four complaints alleging Vigansky violated the city’s ethics policy, rules of procedure and code of conduct relative to the suspension last fall of Eldridge, releasing confidential information and harassing city staff about the grievances. The fourth complaint was similar to the recall wording above.

Vigansky said Tuesday that he’s not going to quit and “lay down” just because the signatures have been submitted. “They’ve smeared my face in the mud, I’m not going to lay down and take it,” he said.

“I didn’t break any law, I’m only guilty of saying things that offend people,” he said. “People freaked out when I said ‘kiss my ass’ in a commission meeting. The only thing I’m guilty of is taking people’s bait.”

He noted that he found in his initial perusal of the submitted petitions that all four of his fellow commissioners, Denison, Money, Swem and Mark Weedon, were among those who circulated petitions calling for his recall.

Vigansky continues to deny the racist claims made in the recall wording and said his First Amendment rights are being violated by those making claims he has used racist language. “I’m no more racist than anybody else,” he said.

He traces at least some of the animosity toward him by others in the community to his opposition to last year’s Buchanan school bond issue. He publicly opposed the bond issue which ended up being defeated by voters last May.

Vigansky has fought back against the commission’s actions against him and filed complaints with the Berrien County Prosecutor and the Michigan Attorney General. He has claimed among other things that the city commission violated the Open Meetings Act in suspending Eldridge.