Group submits signatures to force recall election of Buchanan mayor

Published 12:41 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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ST. JOSEPH — Organizers of a recall effort against Buchanan Mayor Sean Denison have submitted petitions with over 500 signatures to the Berrien County Clerk’s Office. County Clerk Sharon Tyler certified Monday that 54 petition sheets filled with 532 signatures were submitted.

Recall wording against both Denison and City Commissioner Dan Vigansky were approved in December. Organizers of the Vigansky recall submitted their petitions filled with 397 signatures in early March and the recall failed a short time later when the number of valid signatures was found to be 353 which was below the 380 signature threshold.

Berrien County Elections Administrator Kathryn Kiemesrud said earlier that the number of petition signatures needed to force a recall election with the Denison and Vigansky recalls is 380. That number represents 25 percent of the number of votes cast in the city in the last gubernatorial election.

Now that the petitions have been submitted, signatures on the petitions will be checked by the County Clerk’s office as well as Buchanan City Clerk Kalla Langston to make sure that those signing are registered voters and city residents. Denison can also challenge signatures.

If the recall petitions are found to have the sufficient number of valid signatures, the county clerk shall call a special election which in this case will be in November. Recall elections can be held in either May or November.

In this case, the recall election would be held Nov. 5 and feature Denison and anyone else who files to run for the remainder of Denison’s term which goes through November, 2026. The two city commission seats currently held by Larry Money and Patrick Swem will also be on the ballot.

The recalls against both Denison and Vigansky began last December after the resignation of then City Manager Benjamin Eldridge in late November. Eldridge had been suspended with pay earlier in November over allegations of harassment and other complaints brought by city employees.

Residents Carla Johnson and Monroe Lemay filed the Denison wording which said he should be recalled for suspending Eldridge in November. Resident Jacob Brown filed the Vigansky recall, quoting Vigansky as saying he always refers to “Blacks, Mexicans and Indians as ‘you people’.”

Vigansky was also censured by his four fellow city commissioners in January over his informing Eldridge of the charges against him and other issues, with commissioners asking the governor to remove him from office. That removal never took place and Vigansky remains on the commission.

Lemay and Johnson said Monday that they found a growing number of people concerned about what’s going on in the Buchanan city government. They said people initially didn’t want to sign petitions over fears of retaliation but later decided to sign.

“We started getting people calling us who wanted to sign,” Lemay said. “The more people who heard about it, the more they wanted to sign. It was really nice to be able to talk to people and hearing their concerns … People are starting to ask questions and getting involved and not just complaining.”

Johnson said her goal was to get 500 signatures to overcome any that might be thrown out. “I never thought we would this number, I’m fairly happy with it,” she said. “People are upset, we would have gotten more if we had more time.”

She said people told her and other petition circulators that they are concerned not only about what happened with Eldridge but also how high their water and sewer bills are as well as infrastructure problems in the city.

Denison could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.